Fuat Emir

Libya, which has been seeking stability and reconciliation since 2011, when the 42-year-old Muammar Gaddafi regime was overthrown by a popular uprising and NATO operations, has been at the center of different power, interest and ideological struggles for approximately 13 years.

In particular, the civil war that broke out in 2019 dragged the east and west of the country into political and military polarization, turning the political structures established during the period into structures based on power sharing between rival cliques, far from social consensus. This situation not only paved the way for armed militia groups that gained certain privileges by taking advantage of the chaos environment to turn into political actors, but also disrupted the attempts at people-based democracy.

Finally, the cancellation of the presidential elections planned to be held in December 2021 triggered an environment of political and military competition again after a relatively stable year and a half, and with the initiatives of the parliament operating in the east of the country and the leader of the militia forces in the east, Khalifa Haftar, a government led by former Minister of Internal Affairs Fethi Başağa. A parallel government was established. It can be said that this development is the driving force of the conflicts that occur periodically in the capital Tripoli and its surroundings, and that the resulting situation disrupts the attempts to reschedule the postponed December 2021 elections.

In addition to these developments, the military coups that took place in the Sahel region adjacent to Libya, the ongoing civil war in Sudan and the increasing terrorist activity in Sub-Saharan Africa, expose Libya, which connects the African continent to the Mediterranean in terms of migration routes, to a serious flow of immigrants. . In addition, weak border controls and lack of supervision caused by ongoing political uncertainty, along with demographic pressure caused by illegal migration, can be cited as among the factors that may lead to the revival and gain of space of the ISIS terrorist organization in the Fezzan region in the south of Libya. Considering these sensitive and fragile local dynamics, it is possible to evaluate Turkey-Libya relations and Minister Fidan’s visit to Tripoli under two main headings.

Active Diplomacy and Balanced Policy for a United Libya

The visit of Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and his accompanying delegation to Libya for official contacts on February 7 is very important in understanding the recent Turkey-Libya relations. Within the scope of the visit, Minister Fidan visited the Prime Minister of the National Unity Government (UBH) Abdulhamid Dibeybe, the President of the Supreme State Council of Libya (DYK) Muhammed Miftah Takala, the President of the Libyan Presidential Council Muhammed Menfi, the Vice President Abdullah El-Lafi and the President of the Central Bank of Libya Siddik El-Lafi. He met with Kebir.

The prominent topics of Minister Fidan’s visit to Dibeybe were the political and economic relations between the two countries, as well as the Gaza issue and the ongoing national reconciliation process in Libya. So much so that Minister Fidan’s visit took place 1 month after the Tripoli Court of Appeal announced the suspension of the hydrocarbon agreement dated October 2022. Undoubtedly, this decision means that the agreement and natural rights will be under threat if groups that are distant from Turkey take control in the future.

However, Minister Fidan stated in the joint press statement he made with his counterpart Ian Borg in Malta, the stop before his visit to Libya, that they decided to reopen Ankara’s consulate in Benghazi city in the east of Libya. This issue, which has been on the agenda for a while, came at a time when election uncertainty was experienced and the east-west rivalry was re-triggered.

In other words, this step may mean that Turkey will increase negotiations with official actors in the east, as in the west, in the new period. In particular, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s planned visit to Egypt on February 14 and his meetings with his Egyptian counterpart Abdulfettah Sisi are a development that should not be evaluated independently of Libya. Egypt and Turkey, which developed strong relations with the eastern parliament after 2014, finding common ground in Libya may have a positive impact on the political crisis.

In addition, the reopening of the Benghazi Consulate shows that the normalization process that started with the east has been put on the agenda again, and this approach shows Turkey’s discomfort with the ongoing covert rivalry between the east and west of Libya, conflicts between rival groups and the failure of the reconciliation process. So much so that Turkey’s military presence in the west of the country is one of the main deterrents that prevent small-scale conflicts from turning into a larger-scale all-out war.

On the other hand, the consulate planned to be opened in Benghazi, together with the diplomatic initiative initiated with the parliament in the east of the country in 2021, may help prevent the negative narrative that is being created against Turkey in the east. It can be said that this attitude will position Turkey as a critical actor in the reconstruction of Libya and the unification of institutions, especially the security sector reform (SSR).

For example, Turkey can be expected to play key roles in the future in the transition to a unified army and in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (STyE) programs of militia groups. Although the USA, Germany and Egypt have recently taken initiatives in this field, Libya’s national goals and priorities must be taken into account in order for these efforts to be effective. It can be said that Turkey stands out as the most sincere actor in terms of its presence in the region, its military capacity and past experiences.

Libya File in Terms of Eastern Mediterranean and National Interests

Another dimension of Turkey’s search for stability in Libya can be associated with the protection of national interests and balances in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this context, the policies implemented within the scope of the ‘Blue Homeland’ Doctrine have recently become a necessity for Turkey to be involved in the political process in Libya. In particular, the Maritime Authorization and Defense Cooperation Agreements signed with the GNA in 2019, on the one hand, shelved the possibility of a possible coup in Libya, and on the other hand, they became important tools in achieving the natural rights granted to Turkey by international law.

The approval of the maritime borders drawn between the two countries in the Eastern Mediterranean by the UN gave Turkey a say in Mediterranean geopolitics, thus negating the energy equations that tried to exclude Turkey. Subsequently, the Turkey-Libya Hydrocarbon Agreement, signed in October 2022, was a core part of the agreement signed in 2019, deepening the energy cooperation between the two Mediterranean countries and paving the way for its development.

Turkey’s active diplomacy traffic and the dialogue mechanisms it has established with different local actors against the dissenting voices rising from inside and outside Libya against this agreement prevent political tendencies from getting in the way of potential partnerships.

On the other hand, it is observed that EU countries and the USA are looking for alternatives at a time when the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine War and the energy routes in the Red Sea are disrupted due to Houthi attacks.

Based on this, Libya is one of the candidate countries to fill this gap with its strategic location and energy reserves. In this respect, increasing Turkey’s interactions and cooperation in the Libyan energy sector may provide Turkey with flexibility in regional policies and has the potential to provide certain advantages in the global energy supply-demand balance.

As a result, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan’s Libya tour corresponds to a very critical period in terms of timing and content. The elections that remain uncertain, the fragile structures within the security bureaucracy established in the east and west, and Libya’s strategic position in the global energy equation can be listed among the subheadings that push Turkey to more proactive policies.

In addition, the consulate planned to be reopened in Benghazi can provide Turkey with the sphere of influence it seeks and support the transmission of accurate narratives by reaching the social base in the east.


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