Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh visited Ankara last week with a large delegation including five deputy prime ministers, 14 ministers, and the chief of staff to participate in the first meeting of the Turkey-Libya Strategic Cooperation Council. Dbeibeh is keen to pursue a balanced foreign policy, even though he communicates with all of the governments that have had a role in destabilising his country over the past few years while giving special importance to Turkey, which has helped to bring some degree of stability to Libya thanks to the 2019 maritime border and other agreements.
As prime minister for just a couple of months, Dbeibeh is well aware that excluding Turkey militarily from the Libyan equation will jeopardise the political future of his country. He is also closely following renegade Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar's plan to build three huge housing projects for 12 million people on the outskirts of Benghazi. In the middle of all this, Italy and France are trying to lead the reconstruction process in Libya, while Greece is seeking to persuade the Libyans to cancel the memorandum of understanding concluded with Turkey which demarcates the maritime border in the eastern Mediterranean.
Egypt, meanwhile, is busy wooing Tunisia in order to limit Turkey's influence in the region. It is noticeable that competition between Egypt and Turkey looks as if it is going to continue in Libyan affairs, despite the convergence between them about dividing areas of authority in the eastern Mediterranean. For example, Cairo is trying to get Tunisia worried about the Turkish presence at Al-Watiya Air Base in western Libya. It seems that ongoing tension between Ankara and Cairo stands alongside a recent improvement in their relations.
A large number of actors in Libyan affairs are trying to exclude Turkey from the equation. Dbeibeh, who is a well-known businessman, seeks to establish a balance based on the principle of mutual benefit for all parties. If he succeeds, he will have the opportunity to take part in the General Election scheduled for December and possibly govern Libya for a long time.
There is no doubt that Ankara enjoys an indispensable and strategic importance in the balanced policy that the prime minister seeks due, no doubt, to its historic ties with Libya. Moreover, Turkey can provide assistance in rebuilding the North African country devastated by 10 years of war, and in ensuring that it can resume its role in the international community.
Libya is well-placed geographically on the traditional route from the Middle East across North Africa to the west of the continent, and from Africa to Europe. It was also part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years. Its importance increased in 1959 with the discovery of high-quality oil fields.
Turkey, therefore, is certain to continue its support for the Tripoli government formed through the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement and recognised by the United Nations as the legitimate authority in the country. Ankara believes that Libya can shed its current difficulties through negotiations with all concerned parties, with the ultimate objective of being politically, economically, and socially stable.
Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 14 April 2021 and edited for MEMO.
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