By Essam AbdelShafy
In light of the developments that the Libyan crisis has witnessed since the early 2020 until now, and with an escalating debate about the Turkish role in the crisis, and the difference that such role can make in support of Libyan legitimacy, there is a set of proposals and basic considerations that both Turkish and Libyan parties should consider seriously, including:
First: Limits of the Turkish role
With regard to the nature and limits of the Turkish role in Libya, two basic levels should be distinguished:
Level 1: the two parties (Turkish and Libyan) may view the Turkish role in Libya as a phased tactical role linked to management of a situation or crisis, which requires:
- Coordination between the two governments to shuffle cards in front of various regional and international parties related to the Libyan issue, especially after Turkey has formed a strong pressure card in facing different axes in the Libyan scene.
- Coordination between the two governments in the negotiation processes and its different tracks, and the most important issues that constitute negotiation priorities, so that the focus will be on the fundamental issues that constitute the core of the crisis in Libya, with keenness on preventing the counter parties to impose their agendas on the negotiating tracks.
Level 2: that the two parties (Turkish and Libyan) may view the Turkish role in Libya as a strategic role, which requires the need to work on developing levels and mechanisms of strategic partnership, including:
- Institutional structure: by building a number of (political, economic, security, …) institutions that shall be based on strengthening partnership and enjoy speed and effectiveness in the decision-making process, implementing the agreed policies, and linking these institutions with broad sectors of citizens in the two countries.
- Legislative Structure: which is manifested in signing agreements and ratifying them through the legislative institutions in the two countries, and depositing copies of them in regional and international organizations, to avoid tampering with them, in the event of any political transformation within the Libyan interior, in a way that will guarantee the rights of both parties, provided that agreement should be reached on mechanisms to manage crises and disputes that may arise between the two parties, when these agreements are effectively implemented, to ensure peaceful settlement of them, without posing any harm to their strategic relations.
- Social structure: The two parties should not stop at level of elite agreements between political figures or official governmental institutions only, but it is extremely important to expand construction of the social incubator, through: strengthening popular partnerships and building joint community entities and civil society institutions; and expanding investments and labor-intensive projects In Turkey on the one hand, and the infrastructure and service projects in Libya on the other, so that the ordinary citizen will realize the importance of strengthening relations between the two countries – similarly to the Turkish model in Somalia, where Turkey’s focus on the infrastructure and service projects has led to boosting the positive mental image of Turkey among Somali citizens, which Turkey needs to do in Libya at this stage.
- The Turkish government should work to ensure that its cooperation with the al-Sarraj government does not come in the context of supporting one party against the other, and that Ankara seeks consolidation of the unity and sovereignty of Libyan territory. In fact, this will not be achieved by reiteration of slogans, but through serious projects and clear and specific initiatives targeting the various regions of the Libyan state, with all its social components and political currents.
- Emphasizing that the Turkish role in Libya does not operate freely, but it is largely governed by regional and international balances, as well as active roles in the Libyan arena, most significantly the roles played by France, the United States, and Russia – due to the potentials and capabilities of these countries, the nature of their goals in Libya, and the overlap of these roles in Libya with roles they play in other issues such as: Iraq, Syria, East Mediterranean gas, and refugees. This requires a comprehensive reading of these files to know how each of them affects the other, within the framework of strategic settlements in the region.
Second: Dimensions of the Turkish role
It is not acceptable in the current stage of Turkish-Libyan cooperation to raise controversial issues such as whether the Turkish role is based on interests or on values.
Here comes the significance of the following points:
- Whoever asks about the position of Turkish values in the Libyan equation, should be asked about the location of French, American, Russian, Italian, Egyptian, Emirati and Saudi values in the Libyan equation; and whether these countries strive to preserve the Libyan citizen, rights and freedoms, and work to consolidate religious and moral values in Libyan society; or they just seek to defend what they view as strategic interests!
- The primary criterion in relations between countries is the protection and promotion of national interests; and accordingly, each party must work to maximize its interests in its regional and international alliances. However, if maximization of interests goes in line with agreement on values, references and principles, then it is important to work to promote and consolidate these interests.
- In building the foreign policy strategies of nations, it is important to bet on peoples and solid social components, and not only on part of the ruling political elite or political officials, because the current stage in the Middle East is extremely volatile, and consequently, transformations in political systems are rapid and stormy; and with their collapse, all bets on them and the agreements signed with them fall. Therefore, it is important to take into account the social, cultural, and intellectual dimensions of strategic alliances, and invest in coherent groups or entities that are difficult to separate between them and their allies.
- The joint management of crises requires from all parties clarity of visions, specifying potentials and capabilities, and the distribution of roles; therefore, it is important to state clearly what is required of the Turkish side in the equation of alliance with the Libyan government, and also define what is required of the Libyan side in the equation of alliance with the Turkish government, in management of common tasks and operations, both at the level of:
- Security and military coordination in strategies, policies, and tools.
- Building security and military services, armament and training operations – benefiting from previous international experiments and experiences in some African countries after major crises, such as in Rwanda.
- Managing external alliances and building regional partnerships (in the first phase with Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco).
- The negotiating files and their priorities, the power cards that the Libyan government possesses, and the opportunities provided by the Turkish side.
Third: Recommendations for Turkish government
- The Turkish government must realize that its mental image in North African countries faces great challenges, amid systematic distortion fueled and backed by many regional and international parties, pumping billions of dollars to distort Turkey’s image, which requires accurate measurements of public opinion in these countries regarding the attitude towards Turkey and relations with Ankara and the extent of distortion in the mental image – to be able to adopt a number of media, social, cultural and intellectual policies to improve this image.
- The Turkish government should facilitate entry visa and residence procedures for Libyan citizens, so that ordinary Libyan citizens feel that agreements between governments directly reflect on their movement and investment in Turkey.
- The Turkish government should expand educational scholarships in Turkish governmental and Wkaf (endowment) institutions for Libyan students in the various stages of education, which would lift many pressures on the shoulders of Libyan citizens and constitute a strategic depth for the relations of the two countries.
Fourth: Recommendations for Libyan government
- The Libyan government must realize that the bet on European countries is bad, because these countries have strongly sided with Khalifa Haftar over the past five years; and therefore they are no longer interested in the civil nature of the state or the democratic transformation in Libya. In fact, these European countries are only interested in securing their strategic interests, particularly seizure of the Libyan oil wealth and having control over Libyan ports; and betting on Haftar and his regional allies in facing illegal immigration and organized crime issues that could threaten Europe amid the continued security and political instability in the Libyan scene. This must push the Libyan government to search for active partners from outside the European system – as alternatives.
- The Libyan government should fix the major imbalances in the institutional structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its external representations, and impose full control over them in terms of nomination and selection of heads of diplomatic missions, and activating their role in defending the Libyan issue, away from dependency on regional and international foreign parties that direct them in accordance with their own agenda in Libya.
- In stages of political transformation, especially in light of what the Libyan situation is witnessing, the issue of democracy is no longer a priority for the largest sector of Libyan citizens, but the priority has rather become meeting basic and essential needs and providing daily services, after suffering for 9 years since February 2011 until now, which requires the following from the Libyan government:
- Adopting policies that can build trust with citizens, by stopping corruption; establishment of the values of integrity, transparency, and fair accountability; and choosing people according to competencies, capabilities, and experiences, not according to favoritism, personal relationships, and narrow affiliations.
- Consolidation of interest in public services (health, education, transportation, and hygiene) which have positive impact on citizens’ trust in the government and its institutions at this stage.
- The Libyan government should stop the hate, fragmentation, and division rhetoric in the various media outlets that it can practice pressure or influence on.
- The Libyan government should Identify the networks of interests inside the Libyan interior and its regional and international extensions; expose Haftar’s networks and financing relationships and work to target them; and form pressure groups and lobbies in the capitals that influence the Libyan scene to determine the parties standing behind these networks and how they can be dismantled.
- The Libyan government should assign a committee of experts in constitutional law, political systems and transitional stages to undertake outlining the general frameworks that will control movement in the coming stage, and provide alternatives and flexible policies, not those frameworks that are consistent with the current government’s orientations, but those that adopt protection of the civil state and its institutions and enhancement of the democratic transition process, whatever the orientations of the coming governments may be, to prevent the existence of authoritarian regimes in the future. This committee should prepare ideas and perceptions that are applicable under any likely transformations, so that no agendas may be imposed on the nation during various negotiating tracks. The committee must be keen on inviting parties from the different Libyan geographical regions, especially the East and South, being real partners in defining the features of the Libyan future.
Dr. Essam Abdel-Shafy is a professor of International Relations, University of Skarya, Turkey. He worked as a visiting professor in Alexandria, Damanhur, 6 October, and Beirut universities.