By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript
Maybe you haven’t noticed, given what’s going on in eastern Europe, but the Libyan civil war continues to take lives and prevent peace. Almost eleven years after the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi, the country remains in a virtual state of anarchy.
Since the summer of 2014, political power has been split between two rival governments, located, respectively, in Tripoli and Tobruk. The UN-backed and internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), under Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, sits in the former, while an administration loyal to General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) rules in the latter. Each has its own militias and foreign state supporters.
Dbeibeh was selected as prime minister to lead a temporary unified executive Feb. 15, but this has not been recognized by his Tripoli rivals, who instead appointed Fathi Bashagha.
On July 1, several hundred people protested against armed militias in Tripoli, while rioters stormed the country’s eastern parliament building in Tobruk, demonstrating against deteriorating conditions and political deadlock.
Fighting between rival militias in Tripoli on July 22 killed at least 13 people. At least 30 others were wounded.
Libya’s geopolitical importance stems from its vast energy resources, its position in relation to southern Europe, and its location at the entrance to the eastern Mediterranean.
This has, not surprisingly, led to involvement on the part of other countries. The internal warfare has provided an opportunity for them to compete for long-term financial and strategic gains.
Foreign powers are clamoring for dominance over the El Sharara and El Feel oil fields, which lie in southern Libya’s oil crescent; control of offshore oil deposits held by the GNA; and access to crucial ports, such as Benghazi and Ras Lanuf.
The balance of forces in Libya profoundly affects who will win what contracts. The United Arab Emirates, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and France have supported the LNA’s military activities, and their economic interests hinge on the success of Haftar’s army.
Italy, Turkey, and Qatar have consistently supported the GNA and helped the UN-backed government resist Haftar’s territorial offensives.
Turkey seems to have the upper hand these days. It officially threw its support behind the GNA in the autumn of 2019 and Ankara began sending tanks and weapons into Libya via the Mediterranean on Jan. 5, 2020.
Turkey also signed a deal with Libya on Nov. 27, 2019 which asserts Ankara’s rights to resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Kaan Devecioglu, a researcher at the Ankara-based Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM), reminds us that Libya has always been essential, from both historical and geographical aspects, to Turkish foreign policy.
“It should not be forgotten that the Ottoman Empire’s collapse started with losing its impact in the East Mediterranean. In this context, this agreement is crucial and it should be appreciated as a huge victory,” Devecioglu stated.
Turkey announced on June 17, 2020 that it was ready to start rebuilding Libya, after President Tayyip Erdogan’s senior deputies visited Tripoli to discuss cooperation on energy, construction and banking.
“Turkey has become a powerful regional actor at a scale never seen in its recent history,” remarked Erdogan, speaking at the Ministry of Treasury and Finance Building in Istanbul on July 4, 2020.
“Our country’s position in global power index assessments is increasing with each passing year. We are now close than ever to our goal of great and strong Turkey. Once we safely carry our country to 2023, we will have made Turkey an unstoppable power.”
Turkey is ready to reap the benefits of its strategic moves in Libya that puts the country on top of the list to bid for multibillion dollar contracts. The volume of projects implemented by Turkish investors in the construction sector alone has exceeded $28 billion.
Turkish businessmen say they are looking forward to playing a key role in the rebuilding of the oil-rich country. But that remains an elusive goal until stability is restored and a functioning government emerges.
Presidential elections, which were originally set for Dec. 24 last year, failed to take place due to disputes over electoral laws. On Feb. 22, Dbeibah announced a plan to hold the elections at the end of 2022. We shall see.