In the wake of Erdogan’s electoral victory, Türkiye will continue to deepen ties with the Tripoli government, but may also seek reconciliation with Benghazi.
Libya’s political leaders closely watched the Turkish presidential election. In Tripoli, Libyan President Mohamed al-Menfi and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah were among the first leaders to congratulate President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Dbeibah expressed his hope that bilateral relations between Libya and Türkiye will continue to flourish.
The Tripoli government’s support for Erdoğan could be seen as a strategic move to secure continued Turkish military assistance in its ongoing conflict against the Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar in the country’s eastern region.
Moreover, a victory for the Turkish opposition may have fundamentally disrupted Türkiye-Libya relations. Prior to the elections, Ünal Çeviköz, a key foreign affairs adviser to the opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, repeatedly suggested that a Kılıçdaroğlu-led government would withdraw support for the Tripoli government and end military aid.
Since his electoral victory, President Erdoğan has taken steps to maintain his foreign policy strategy, especially towards Libya.
These include the recent appointment of Hakan Fidan as foreign minister, a former head of intelligence and a prominent figure in Türkiye-Libya policy. Fidan’s involvement in Ankara’s policy towards Libya has been noteworthy: during his trip to Libya in January 2023, for example, he met with Dbeibah to discuss critical diplomatic issues. Given Fidan’s familiarity with the region, Türkiye’s already robust engagement in Libya will likely be bolstered.
Ankara’s strategic goals in Libya include enhancing its presence in North Africa, safeguarding its economic interests, and expanding its influence in the Mediterranean. Türkiye and Libya have signed a number of military and security agreements in recent years, and Tripoli has even helped to stabilize the Turkish lira: in 2020, Libya’s Central Bank reportedly deposited $8 billion in the Central Bank of Türkiye, interest-free for four years.
Since completing a maritime agreement in November 2019 to redefine their territorial waters in the Mediterranean, the two countries have increased cooperation on oil and natural gas exploration.
Türkiye is looking to lower its energy imports, and in October 2022, Ankara and Tripoli signed a memorandum of understanding on hydrocarbon exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean. While a Libyan court suspended the deal in January, the Tripoli government may appeal the decision and Türkiye’s national oil company will likely soon launch surveys in Libyan waters.
Turkish-Libyan economic ties also extend to the construction sector, which was heavily impacted by the country’s civil war. According to Murtaza Karanfil—chairman of the Türkiye-Libya Business Council at the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK)— Turkish construction trade in Libya amounted to $29 billion in 2010, and significantly decreased in the following years.
More recently, the Tripoli government has begun to award contracts to Turkish firms: in 2020, for instance, Turkish construction companies built three thousand prefabricated homes in Tripoli. Thus, during Erdoğan’s new term, it is probable that Türkiye will try to expand construction projects and develop its economic interests in Libya.
Despite these areas of close collaboration between Ankara and Tripoli, Türkiye may also seek reconciliation with Libya’s eastern-based government. Erdoğan’s meeting last August with Aguila Saleh, the parliament speaker based in Tobruk and a Haftar supporter, signifies Türkiye’s willingness to engage with the country’s eastern region, where it has several unfinished construction projects.
As a first sign of these efforts, 38 Turkish companies and 65 Turkish businesspeople recently participated in a Turkish trade exhibition in Benghazi.
During his new term, Erdoğan will likely try to walk a fine line: maintaining and expanding relations with the Tripoli government, while also advancing reconciliation with Benghazi.
Although this may seem impossible, given Türkiye’s recent reconciliation with the UAE and Egypt—both long supporters of the government in Benghazi—the possibility of full normalization between Benghazi and Ankara cannot be completely ruled out. It could encourage opposing groups in Libya to prepare a new strategy for breaking through the political impasse, ending the conflict, and facilitating nationwide elections.
Ferhat Polat is a recipient of the prestigious Chevening Scholarship (2022-2023) and an MA candidate in Middle East Studies at the University of Exeter. He is also a researcher at the TRT World Research Centre, specializing in North African geopolitics and security and focusing on Libyan affairs.