Aguila Saleh, speaker of Libya’s House of Representatives — the Tobruk-based parliament — visited Ankara at the beginning of August and was received by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mustafa Sentop, speaker of the Turkish parliament.
Before his visit, Saleh explained his change in attitude toward Turkey. In the Libyan conflict, Turkey opposed Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Saleh had supported Haftar.
They did not agree on everything, but in a statement before his departure for Ankara, Saleh told the media that “politics are flexible and subject to development and change; there is no permanent rivalry. The interests of Turks are linked to our interests.”
Erdogan and Saleh agreed that any military solution must be excluded for Libya, and decided to leave all channels of dialogue open for the holding of national elections.
In 2019, Turkey signed two memorandums of understanding with the UN-backed Government of National Accord, one for military cooperation and the other for the demarcation of maritime jurisdiction areas. Saleh was opposed to both and blocked their ratification in parliament, but now says he has changed his mind and supports them.
Under one of these agreements, Turkey provided training, military advice and logistical support to the military forces of the Government of National Accord. This support shifted the military balance against a coalition that included the Haftar forces and Russia’s Wagner mercenaries.
The heart of Libya’s plight is control of the country’s oil wealth. The UN-backed Tripoli government controls the government institutions, the most important being the central bank, while the Tobruk-based government controls most of the oil fields and ports through which the oil is exported. Libya’s oil is so abundant that it would be enough to provide a lavish life for both competing powerhouses, as well as ordinary Libyan citizens.
Intensive negotiations and bargaining are taking place behind the scenes. The Libya Observer newspaper on July 31 claimed that Haftar’s son had traveled to Dubai to negotiate with an envoy of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah for several positions in a government reshuffle.
Haftar wanted four ministerial posts — finance, planning, defense and foreign affairs, as well as two deputy prime ministers — to be left to his discretion. It will be no surprise if these talks have taken place. Dbeibah may settle for such an arrangement in exchange for becoming the head of the executive authority of the oil-rich country.
Libya’s oil is so abundant that it would be enough to provide a lavish life for both competing powerhouses, as well as ordinary Libyan citizens.
Another set of negotiations may be underway to separate the Haftar-controlled eastern provinces from Libya and create an independent state.
This would be a seismic event in the Libyan crisis, with consequences both for the country and the region. If this happens, Turkey will be cut off from the common maritime jurisdiction area and the two countries will have no common sea borders. Turkey would probably do its best to prevent such a scenario.
If Libya is partitioned, further instabilities are sure to take place and the oil-rich country may plunge into a new quagmire.
As if the political situation in Libya was not complicated enough, a US federal court last month condemned Haftar over war crimes in a case initiated three years ago by the families of those who had lost loved ones.
The Libyan commander was found guilty of extrajudicial killings and torture. While the verdict is unlikely to change anything in the field, it will damage Haftar’s popularity.
The Tripoli-based government used to be called the Government of National Accord, but has been renamed the interim Government of National Unity.
Turkey traditionally has offered support to Dbeibah, the prime minister of this government. He was the main defender of Tripoli against an offensive launched by the Haftar forces in 2019. There were violent clashes in the streets of Tripoli to control the capital at that time.
The other government is the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, which is supported by Haftar. It is led by Fathi Bashagha, the former interior minister. Both Dbeibah and Bashagha maintain good relations with Turkey.
Libyan protesters in July set fire to the premises of the House of Representatives and asked for the elections to be held as soon as possible.
Before Saleh’s visit to Turkey an agreement had already been reached between Dbeibah and Haftar to dismiss Mustafa Sanalla, the powerful chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation. He still refuses to leave his post.
If Turkey cannot capitalize on these important assets that are in its favor, such an opportunity may not arise again anytime soon.
Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.