Turkey Brings the New Transitional Authority in Libya

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On the 5th of February, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, sponsored by the United Nations, succeeded in selecting a new executive authority to lead the country during the transitional phase until the elections scheduled for December.  However, this authority raises many questions, and, contrary to what is expected, the third list won 39 votes. This list includes Abdul Hamid Dabaiba being considered among the businessmen who have had interests with Ankara since the era of the previous regime, and the former ambassador of the Government of National Accord to Greece Muhammad Yunus Al-Manfi. It is worth noting that Muhammad Yunus Al-Manfi is the head of the Presidential Council in the third list with the membership of Musa Al-Koni and Abdullah Hussein Al-Lafi of the Council. Additionally, Abdul Hamid Muhammad Dabaiba presides over the government. The Dabaiba list is considered as an opportunity to establish political unity and protect Libya’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.

However, a package of doubts affects the integrity of this government. Due to special considerations, Stephanie Williams, Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (Acting), was involved in the UN mission that relied on the Islamists to later empower them to gain power in the government that enters the fifth transitional phase, and at the head of this government is the Brotherhood and the Libyan Fighting Group. Moreover, this authority contributed to the marginalization of 5 entire regions in the Libyan-Libyan dialogue with large population densities, such as the Tarhuna, Rafla, and Rashafana tribes. It neglected the tribal representation of the community where representation was almost non-existent or weak in relation to the representation of political Islam. Then, there is  the selection of more than 35 personalities affiliated with the Libyan Brotherhood, the militant woman, and a number of deputies who defected from the parliament in Tobruk. In addition, the support for the war of the bulldozers that were among the 75 replaced the electoral college and what was agreed upon in the Cairo Agreement, emptying the political work that was agreed upon. What were the criteria Ms. Steffeni Williams relied upon in her selection of these? Why was the spirit of democracy excluded, why were the Libyan people not held referendums, and, most importantly, why was political Islam imposed?  So, will the High Commission for National Reconciliation be formed without activating the transitional justice laws and holding all human rights violators accountable?

The positions of the new Libyan parties and the calculations of the internal forces that won the management of the transitional phase in Libya revealed solid political backgrounds that reflect the association of the new government team in Libya with Turkey, as well as indicated the escalation of the possibility of continuing Turkish influence inside Libya.  In his first statement after his election as head of the transitional government, Abdel Hamid Dabaiba said that there will be solidarity between Turkey and Libya, adding, “Turkey is an ally, friend and brother, and it has many capabilities to help the Libyans reach their true goals. Turkey is one of our true partners.” Dabaiba is also associated with great economic interests with Turkey, as the commercial and financial groups affiliated to him in Misurata have branches in all parts of the world, including Turkey.

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In the same context, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first president to initiate contact with the winners of the transitional government administration, in a scene that reflects the extent of Turkish satisfaction with the new Libyan authority. On the 6th of February, he expressed his wishes for success to both Manfi and Dabaiba in their new duties.  Yassin Aktay, the advisor to the Turkish president, also confirmed that his country welcomes the selection of the new government, and considers it a “positive thing due to the Libyan people approaching stability and strengthening internal dialogue in the country.”  He pointed out that the new Libyan government “does not oppose the agreement signed between Turkey and Fayez Al-Sarraj in November 2019 to define the maritime borders and strengthen military cooperation, nor does the Turkish presence in Tripoli; on the contrary, it supports the Turkish role there.

On a significant level, the British Investigative Journal revealed in a report published last January that the Dabaiba family, which is active in the fields of construction and manages vital facilities in western Libya, has awarded about $19 billion in construction contracts.

In fact, Turkey’s support for the new transitional government in Libya proposes three main indications. The first is that Turkey believes that the victory of the Dabaiba and Manfi list has contributed to reducing the role of figures who openly and decisively oppose the Turkish intervention inside Libya, which represents a step towards marginalizing Ankara’s opponents inside Libya, especially since Turkey considers that one of the main challenges facing its continued penetration in Libya is not only related to regional and international opposition as much as it is related to the escalation of the state of rejection of large popular and political Libyan sectors against Turkish involvement inside Libya.

The second is that there is a broad understanding between Turkey and the list that won the presidency of the transitional phase, as the list does not bear any negative orientations towards Turkey. It was remarkable that there were no direct anti-Turkish statements made by the new Libyan Presidential Council Chairman, Muhammad Yunus Al-Manfi.  Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dabaiba, had his first press interviews with the Turkish Anadolu Agency, with his explicit emphasis on the importance of the Turkish role in Libya.

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The third is related to Turkish satisfaction with the new executive authority, whose orientations seem to guarantee Turkish interests in Libya.  For example, in his evaluation of the commercial relations between Libya and Turkey, the new Libyan prime minister said, “Turkey has imposed its status and presence in the world and not only in Libya, and it is the only country that the Libyans were able to go to freely during the period of the war .. Turkey opened its airports and did not close its embassy in Tripoli.”  He added, “I believe that freedom of movement will be reflected on cooperation between the two peoples in the field of economy. We hope to develop this cooperation and raise the volume of trade exchange to the highest levels.” It is certain that Dabaiba’s statements give indications that Turkish influence, pertaining to both military and economic sectors, in Libya will not face negative challenges at the current stage. Rather, it remains a candidate for expansion in light of the financial and commercial ties between Dabaiba and Turkey.

These Turkish moves and statements towards the new executive authority in Libya reflect a desire to achieve a set of goals and interests, which can be presented as follows:

  1. Strengthening the role of Ankara through the centralization of the Turkish role in Libya, especially now that the new executive authority is expected to be a new version of the policies of the Government of National Accord, which has closely allied with the Turkish government, related to the alliances that the Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj government established with Turkey and Qatar.
  2. Supporting economic interests as Prime Minister Abdul Hamid al-Dabaiba is one of the most important businessmen in Libya. From 2006 until 2011, he headed the Libya Investment and Development Company, which is considered one of the largest construction companies in Libya, and has many commercial activities with Turkish companies. In addition, the remarkable presence of companies affiliated with the new Libyan prime minister in Turkey may enhance the escalation of opportunities to raise the rates of trade exchange between Turkey and Libya. Because of the decline in the presence of Turkish exports in the European and Arab markets in the past period, the Libyan market is the second market for Turkish contractors abroad after Russia and there are about 120 Turkish companies in Libya.
  3. Absorbing pressure as Turkey is quick to employ the Libyan card to absorb the international pressure that is being exerted on it. This is due especially to the administration of US President Joe Biden, which announced different approaches to its foreign policy towards Turkey due to Turkey’s insistence on the Russian S-400 missile defense system, and retreated the human rights situation inside Turkey.
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In this context and with Washington’s efforts to support the efforts of the United Nations to settle the Libyan crisis, not to mention its efforts to distance Moscow from the centers of control and control in Libya, Turkey is betting in its support for the new Libyan authority to consolidate its position as a regional power with weight in Libya. Then, there is the influence the expected American policies have towards Libya, where Turkey wants to be using its influence as a pressure card to resolve thorny files with Washington.

In conclusion, it can be said that the new executive authority in Libya, which resulted from the UN-sponsored election process that took place on February 5th, may preserve Turkish influence in Libya.It has provided opportunities to ensure the preservation of its economic and military interests in Libya, in addition to the importance of using the relationship with the new Libyan authority as a card that can be invested in absorbing Washington’s pressures that are heading towards interacting again with the Libyan issue.

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Ornella Sukkar is a Lebanese journalist specialized in Arab-Islamic and radicalization studies from an oriental perspective and international affaires.

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