Motasem A Dalloul
At the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Geneva on Friday, 75 members, including former statesmen and tribal leaders, elected a small Presidential Council and a prime minister to prepare the ground for fair and transparent presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 24 December. Those so chosen signed pledges that they will not stand in the elections for which they have been asked to prepare.
The team for this new Libyan authority consists of Mohammed Al-Menfi, head of the Presidential Council, with Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, Musa Al-Koni, and Abdullah Al-Lafi as its members. Dbeibeh was selected to serve as the prime minister and he was given until 26 February to present his government to the parliament in Libya, which then has three weeks to approve it. Failing this, the matter will return to the forum for approval.
The political process which brought about this new Libyan leadership emerged from an international conference co-sponsored and hosted by Germany last year. The conference followed the defeat of the militia commanded by renegade Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar after his 14-month campaign to take Tripoli, the Libyan capital and seat of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Countries around the world welcomed the formation of the new council, including Turkey, which had supported the GNA in Tripoli. Egypt, the UAE, Russia and France, which all support Haftar, also hailed the measure. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to everyone to accept the results of the elections and work with the new government.
While the formation of the new authority does not make a considerable difference to the military situation on the ground in Libya, the new council president announced that he would bring all arms in Libya under state control and develop professional security institutions. This will be extremely challenging due to the presence in the country of many militias and armed groups loyal to regional or international powers, including Haftar. These groups are not ready to lay down their arms or merge with legitimate security institutions.
Turkey maintains such a military group in Libya. Arab foreign ministers have called for it to leave the North African country. Indeed, France and other Western countries have also called for it to leave war-torn Libya. Will Turkey respond to these voices? Moreover, as a friend of the GNA, will it support the new Presidential Council?
The ongoing instability in the capital and other major cities make it clear, I believe, that Turkey will not only stay in Libya, but may also reinforce its presence there. The government in Ankara argues that its presence is legitimate because it has been coordinated with a national government based on official agreements which had been approved by the UN.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reiterated the importance of maintaining the geographical integrity of the country and the importance of cooperation with its government. In his debut in front of the media, Prime Minister Dbeibeh backed this up, and not only emphasised the retention of coordination between Tripoli and Ankara, but also described Turkey as a “friend” and “ally”. Dbeibeh expressed his wish to maintain coordination with this “strategic partner… at the most senior levels.”
Yasin Aktay, a senior aide to Erdogan, has told Sputnik news agency that Turkey will reinforce its military and economic support for the new Libyan authority. Such support is necessary because it needs to build the national Libyan army and police in order to protect the country and its citizens.
The Turkish army proved its good intentions by siding with the legitimate government and helped it against the militias which wanted to take the capital. Furthermore, Turkey has no colonial ambitions in the country, but has helped to train Libyan troops and supplied them with up to date equipment that basically changed the balance of power in the interests of the internationally-backed GNA in Tripoli against the militias supported by Russia, France, the UAE and Egypt.
The Turkish presence in Libya will remain necessary as long as Haftar and his militias are in the country because they will almost certainly refuse to lay down their arms and may, indeed, fight against the new government. Such a move against the legitimate government will undermine the political process intended to bring a new leadership to the fore, which will not be acceptable to the warlords.
At the moment, the Libyan army is still weak, and will certainly need Turkish support. As long as the Libyan government is in need of help, the Turkish government will be ready to extend its hand in friendship. The new Libyan leaders trust Ankara, and the Turkish authorities know this very well. Far from downsizing, therefore, I fully expect Turkey to boost its presence in Libya for the foreseeable future.