Sectarian violence has spread across the Middle East, with Sunni and Shiite populations engulfed by the blood-letting. But to make matters worse, the Sunni world has recently cleaved into two competing axes pitting a new Turkish-Qatari alliance against a bloc led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Across the region, from Iraq to Libya, these opposing Sunni factions are now contesting each other’s influence, adding another layer of complexity to an already volatile region. As these axes now seek to project their power and influence while diminishing that of their rivals, the stability of the region could become collateral damage in this battle for primacy.
Turkey’s cross-border operation into northeast Syria in October 2019 is the latest example of how these bitter rivalries play out. Qatar was one of the few actors, alongside Hamas and Pakistan, that supported the internationally condemned campaign. Similarly, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, enacting a land, sea, and air blockade in June 2017, Turkey offered a lifeline, sending cargo planes with food and other goods. While both Turkey and Qatar are ostensibly U.S. allies and host key American bases, they are now working in tandem to promote a destabilizing Islamist agenda across the Middle East.