To project Turkish influence in Africa Erdogan needs an unstable Libya

Libyan flag

As a result of NATO intervention in Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become the scene of a civil war and a clash of geopolitical interests. However, the conflict is no longer confined to a local scale and has acquired a new dimension due to the large number of participants, including major regional powers like Turkey, Russia, France and Italy. Today, the civil war in Libya may threaten the entire system of southern European security.

For years Libya has been lacking success in breaking out of the political dead-end. In 10 years Libya has not recovered from internecine strife. The country is split in two. Benghazi and the eastern regions on the border with Egypt are under the rule of General Khalifa Haftar. The capital Tripoli and the west of the border with Tunisia and Algeria are controlled by various forces, including the UN-recognized Government of National Unity (GNA). Various major world players are intervening in the crisis on behalf of the two sides, trying to benefit from this dead-end. Some of them, like Turkey, who is supporting Tripoli, are actually fuelling the conflict for their own benefit.

Libya is a well-known ground for Turkey: the country was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 350 years. Tripoli is a geostrategically important port city in the eastern Mediterranean. The Libyan capital was one of the most important military maritime strongholds of the Ottoman Empire and Erdogan seeks to restore the former glory of the Ottomans.

Turkey's military presence in north-west Libya is being used to prop up the outgoing Prime Minister, Abdel Hamid Dabeiba, who has already served his entire term in office. Turkey is still providing weapons to Libya in violation of the UN embargo. Turkish drones, air defence systems and militias are being actively used by the Libyan Government of National Accord to ensure its survival. Turkish military advisers are also present on the ground.

Despite Turkish support for Dabeiba, Ankara also has economic and geopolitical aspirations in Libya that require a presence in the eastern province of Cyrenaica. To achieve this Turkey chosecourting the local leaders over armed violence. 

Ankara has also won several contracts to build power plants and other facilities, mostly in the Tripoli area. But it intends to go further and sign multi-billion dollar contracts with both parties. Turkey's state oil company is seeking permission to explore underwater gas reserves in Libyan waters off the eastern city of Derna, while Turkish onshore energy companies are seeking stakes in major oil facilities, including in southern Cyrenaica. Another coveted market is the post-war reconstruction of Benghazi, which has already started in earnest. In order to pursue all these ambitions, Turkey is hedging its bets and keeps both the western and eastern paths open.

Of course, Turkey keeps insisting that its goal is to support the internationally recognized government of Libya. But President Erdogan's actions may also have wider strategic goals. Turkey considers Libya part of its sphere of influence in the eastern Mediterranean and an important economic partner in Africa. That is why Erdogan needs Libya unstable to lobby for his interests in North Africa.

Syrian fighters recruited by Turkey have been in Libya since 2020 and are actively fighting on the government side in Tripoli. However, recently they have been involved in internal conflicts between the factions loyal to Tripoli, as was witnessed during the recent armed clashes between the Special Deterrence Force and the 444 Brigade in the Libyan capital that resulted in several dozen people killed or injured.

All this considered, Turkey seeks to become a powerhouse in North Africa through its economic, military and humanitarian efforts. The Ottoman legacy in North Africa can serve as a solid basis for the formation of alliances to protect Turkey's interests and give it a chance to employ its military and political assets along with pan-Islamist ideas. Ankara needed a protectorate in the north of the continent, and that role fell on Libya.

Hassan Mansour
Libyan freelance journalist

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