Libya's Government of National Unity moves closer to Turkish orbit

Ankara has invested 28.9 billion euros in the reconstruction of the North African country and has become its preferred energy partner
Erdogan Abdul Hamid Dbeibe

AFP/ADEM ALTAM  -   Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Libya's interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah after a joint appearance at the Presidential Palace in Ankara

The political transition is proceeding with serious difficulties in Libya as the interim government unravels. The criticism levelled at Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibé by his second-in-command, Husein al-Gotrani, has deepened the crisis of an incumbent government whose goal is to make it to 24 December, the date set for the general elections, considered a balm after a decade of conflict and whose holding hangs in the balance.

The agenda of the Government of National Unity (GNU), based in Tripoli, is not only to unify the institutions - divided since the 2014 civil war - but also to promote economic recovery after 10 years in free fall. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) puts the North African country's losses after the overthrow of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 at 148.45 billion euros.

Hence, since the new government took office in March 2021, Tripoli has not stopped signing trade agreements with other states. "Libya is known for its wealth of natural resources. Our priority is to make the most of all these opportunities to serve our people and enrich our country," acting Transport Minister Mohamed Salim al-Shehubi told the daily Yeni Şafak.

Abdul Hamid Dbeibé
AP/HAZEM AHMED  -  Libya's interim Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibé

Greece and Turkey, both vying for energy resources in eastern Mediterranean waters, have taken on the role of suitors for a Libya eager for partners. If last week it was Athens' turn with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Greek and Libyan businessmen, this week Tripoli is playing to balance the scales in favour of its Turkish ally.

"Our priority in oil and gas energy deals will always be Turkey," revealed Minister Al Shehubi. "We are open to cooperation with all countries on energy. But as I said, Turkey will always be our priority," he said, holding up Tripoli's cards. Ankara as a preferred partner, at least in an area where Libya stands out as one of the countries with the largest reserves of 'black gold'.

"As the National Unity Government, our strong relations with Turkey continue in many fields and we will continue at the highest level," Al-Shehubi continued. "We see Turkey as a close country in every sense. Moreover, we will provide all kinds of facilities for Turkish companies working in Libya to continue their projects," he explained during the interview with the Turkish newspaper.

Petróleo Libia
PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -  Libyan oil installations

The Eurasian nation has invested a total of 300 billion liras - 28.9 billion euros - in Libya through the 'Back to Life' programme, according to Al-Shehubi. One of the sectors that has benefited most from the Turkish cash injection has been transport, a portfolio he has headed since March, a reason for his affable statements. But investment has also gone in part to the areas of health and education.

"Our goal in the reconstruction of Libya is to work with Turkish companies on new and ongoing projects. I believe that we will do joint work with Turkey in all works in the field of airports, roads, bridges and transport," Al-Shehubi stressed. The amount would undoubtedly facilitate his work at the helm of the ministry and help rebuild a country reduced to rubble.

The minister added that the National Unity Government has a "committee with Turkish companies", that joint projects "are going well" and that more bilateral agreements will be reached in the coming months. "In our contacts, the Turkish business and political world gave us hope for the continuation of the projects. These are very important for life in Libya to return to its former rhythm," Al-Shehubi said.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

In this vein, the Transport Minister announced that Turkish Airlines will resume non-stop flights to Libya. "Currently, there are seven daily flights from Libya to Istanbul. There are also flights to Antalya, but this is not enough. We hope that the flights will meet the demand of Libyan businessmen and citizens," the minister concluded, after acknowledging Turkey as "Libya's gateway to the world".

Transition and interference

A month after the interim government took office, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged to help Tripoli in its reconstruction efforts. To this end, the Ottoman leader has strengthened the volume of public and private sector investments with the maxim of not interfering in sovereignty issues, as he declared in a joint appearance with Abdul Hamid Dbeibé.

A promise that has not been kept. Ankara has kept troops on Libyan soil despite continuous calls from the international community and the current government itself for the withdrawal of "all foreign troops". Turkey has not recognised the existence of Turkish mercenaries in Libya; however, their continued presence is due to the presence of Russian forces from the Wagner group in the eastern part of the country. Both factions pose an obstacle to the reunification of Tripoli and Benghazi.

Mercenario Libia
PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -  Libyan fighter in defence of oil installations

Throughout the fratricidal war, Turkey supported the Government of National Accord, which dominated the western part of the country. From there it fought the Benghazi-based Tobruk government led by General Khalifa Haftar, which in turn was supported by Russia, Egypt and Greece. The latter are rivals for resources in the eastern Mediterranean

"For a long time, images of the Libyan war appeared in the media. These images are in the past. There is no security problem in our country. Our diplomatic talks continue and important steps have been taken to strengthen Libya politically and economically," said Transport Minister Al Shehubi.