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04/29/2021

Preparations for December 24

Preparations for December 24

By Cansu Yiğit

No extraordinary activity is expected in Libya during the period of the provisional government that will lead the country to elections on December 24. Both the Libyan actors and involved countries in Libya are mainly preparing after the elections and trying to keep positive relations with the provisional government.

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which was established under the leadership of the United Nations, determined the Presidential Council of four. This Council is charged with establishing a provisional government that will govern the country until the elections. The elections had surprising results for many commentators. As their result, Muhammed Yunus Menfi was appointed to be Chairman of the Presidential Council and Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh was appointed as Prime Minister. Dbeibeh and Menfi will fulfill the task that Fayiz es Serrac had undertaken alone in the previous period, thus applying the model of an “executive with two leaders”

In the first round of the elections, where candidates competed individually, the Chairman of the House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh and the Minister of Interior, Fathi Bashagha obtained the highest number of votes. Halid al-Mishri, who was known to have good ties with Turkey and was supported by the Justice and Construction Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood withdrew from candidacy in the second round as did the Defense Minister, Selahaddin Nemrush. After the withdrawal, which was considered as the tactical step of the Justice and Construction Party, Nemrush’s votes went to Dbeibeh’s list, because voters were disappointed by the fact that Bashagha had formed a joint list with Haftar’s political representative, Aguila Saleh. Mishri’s votes on the other hand shifted to Bashagha.

Challenges before the government

The former Government of National Accord (GNA), the House of Representatives seated in Tobruk and the countries that supported both sides welcomed the provisional government. Among the main challenges the provisional government is facing, are to unite the divided political and social structure in the country, to reorganize institutions, to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, to overcome the infrastructure problems that negatively affect the daily life of the people, and to take the country to an election, meanwhile preventing that a conflict environment emerges again. Especially complex issues such as the reconstruction of the security area and the process of drafting a new constitution cause debate.

The provisional government is conducting a shuttle diplomacy between the Libyan parties. At the same timeit is trying to prevent senior military commanders of going abroad or making statements to the media without permission. It also strives to achieve a societal consensus for the new constitution by organizing conferences under UN supervision. Again, the infrastructure deficiencies that negatively affect daily life in Libya and cause the people to take to the streets from time to time are also on the table as to problems awaiting urgent solutions.

Right at this moment, when the provisional government just has been elected, Western high-level government representatives started to arrive in Libya, revealing their purpose of getting a share in the reconstruction of the country.

Italy has been one of the main actors to block a UN solution for Libya, and it has played double-sided game. France was supporting Haftar’s side. But it is obvious that both countries have adopted quickly.

Germany, which has a more “neutral” position, is also focused on the economic gains from Libya. As soon as the government was established, Berlin sent company representatives to the country to discuss the return of German companies to Libya.

Greece, the Atlantic’s pawn in the region, also stepped in to sign a maritime border agreement with the new government, but for the time being, they have returned empty-handed from Libya. Libyan Presidential Council President Muhammed Yunus Menfi said in his meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that the Presidential Council does not have the authority to sign an international agreement.

Ankara did not drop the ball on this

Turkey, another important actor in Libya has not committed the same mistake as in Egypt and Syria, where Ankara had gone through a bitter experience. Facing elections, Turkey avoided the mistake of betting all money and efforts on Bashagha, who seemed to be a close ally and was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, and instead it pursued a more inclusive approach. Ankara seems to have a positive attitude towards all candidates based on its interests and tries to succeed in negotiations. In order to understand the foreign policy of the new administration and its relations with Turkey, it is necessary to take a brief look at the names in the government.

President of the Council, Muhammed Yunus Menfi, who was born in Tobruk, was a member of the General National Congress of Libya after Gaddafi. Menfi served as a member of the High Council of State, which was established in 2015, and was Libya’s Ambassador to Greece between December 2018 and December 2019. When Turkey and Libya signed a memorandum of understanding on the limitation of maritime jurisdictions on November 27, 2019, Menfi was asked by Greece to make a statement against this, and expelled from the country upon rejection according to media reports.

After becoming President, he emphasized “the depth of Libya-Turkey relations, brotherly ties and close friendship and cooperation between the two countries” and underlined that “the common interests that unite Libya and Turkey will be protected during the Presidential Council and the Government of National Unity”. Menfi also said that they expect Turkish companies to return to Libya to complete halted operations during the crisis and to contribute to restructuring projects.[1]

Dbeibeh’s relations with Turkey

Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, who was born in Misrata, was closely working with the Gaddafi family. It is known that Dbeibeh was the manager of Libya Investment and Development Company (LIDCO), one of the biggest construction companies in Libya, from 2006 until the day he was elected as Prime Minister. He has been in close relations with Turkey in this respect. The fact that Dbeibeh gave his first interview after taking office to the Turkish news agency Anadolu can be regarded as an indication of his closeness with Turkey. “We will have great solidarity with the Turkish people and state. Turkey is our ally, friend and brother. They also have great capacity to support Libyans in achieving their true goals. Turkey is our true partner”, Dbeibeh said in the interview.[2]  The French Le Monde newspaper argues that Dbeibeh is a name very close to both Ankara and Moscow. The same newspaper also claims that Dbeibeh is the Libyan representative of Turkish companies dealing in the country.[3]

Although there is no clear evidence that Dbeibeh is close to Russia, it is stated that he is in contact with the close circle of Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, whom Russia has met and supported. Speaking to a French newspaper in 2018, Dbeihbeh had given green light to Saif al-Islam’s candidacy for Libyan Prime Ministry: “Saif al-Islam and his brothers are Libyan. And the Gaddafi tribe is one of Libya’s most revered peoples. If Saif al-Islam wants to be a candidate, that is his right. However, he must first stand trial and be cleared.” Dbeibeh also describes his relationship with Saif al-Islam as follows: “I became a public figure first in 2007, when Saif al-Islam developed the program ‘Tomorrow’s Libya’. 99 percent of this program consisted of development, infrastructure construction and education incentive projects. I took a very active part in this project, this is true, and I am proud of it.”[4]

Libya’s policy of balance

Despite these allegations, considering both Dbeibeh’s and Menfi’s statements as well the 35-person technocratic government they established following domestic meetings, it is possible to say that the Presidential Council will follow an impartial policy and try to establish warm relations with all countries until the elections on December 24, 2021. Menfi’s visit to France, Egypt and Turkey right after taking office, and Dbeibeh’s visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey and Russia shows that they are trying to achieve a balance. They will be dealing with local services such as the pending electricity shortage, while working on the constitution and preparing the country for elections in a time as short as eight months. Therefore, the Presidential Council has no choice but to insist on a moderate policy.

Ankara is relaxed during the transition process

Turkey has led all its commercial and military activities in Libya in cooperation with the UN-recognized government, and the Provisional Government delivered a guarantee that all formerly signed agreements will be fulfilled. It can be said therefore that Ankara has an easy hand until December 24. Moreover, the maritime delimitation agreement signed in November 2019 with Libya, one of Ankara’s biggest trump cards in the Eastern Mediterranean, is also in effect. In addition, re-establishing diplomatic contacts with Egypt, which has so far been in opposition to Turkey in the Libyan theater, opens diplomatic space for Ankara both in Libya and in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Besides all that, if the Provisional Government’s accelerates its attempts to normalize the country again, then Libya’s reconstruction offers Turkey new opportunities in terms of economic investment. After taking office, Dbeibeh made a high-level visit to Turkey in mid-April, accompanied by five deputies and 14 ministers. This again demonstrates the importance Libya attaches to Turkey. His strong personal commercial relations to Turkey as a businessman contributed greatly to this extensive visit. During the visit, 14 Libyan ministers met with their Turkish counterparts.

Expectation of a share in reconstruction

After his meeting with Dbeibeh, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said, “We have reached a consensus on steps that will accelerate the return of the Turkish private sector to Libya.” Dbeibeh said, “Libya will host many projects in the field of construction. We wish that Turkish companies carry out these projects.” The joint declaration, made public after the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting between Turkey and Libya, stated the target of increasing the bilateral trade volume to 5 billion dollars in a balanced structure.

 According to the data of Turkish statistics organization TURKSTAT, the trade volume between the two countries was around 3.4 billion dollars in 2020. Of the five agreements signed by the officials of the two countries, the most valuable were undoubtedly the three power plant projects to be built by a Turkish company in Libya. Considering the mutual messages and taken steps, it can be said that Turkey demanded a privileged and priority role before other actors in the reconstruction of Libya, and that the provisional government has responded positively.

However, the provisional government has displayed a very pragmatic policy until today, and it may grant certain privileges to other foreign actors as well. In fact, Dbeibeh signed an agreement with Egyptian authorities on April 20, which includes the resumption of electricity, communications, infrastructure, investment and reciprocal flights.

The weights may change after the elections

On the other hand, an important point of the visit to Turkey was that the Libyan delegation confirmed its commitment to both the security and defense cooperation of the two countries and the maritime delimitation agreement between them. This can be read as a strong message against the pressure of other foreign actors in Libya to withdraw Turkish troops from this country.

However, it should not be forgotten that the Libyan government will change at the end of the year. Both Libyan politicians and foreign actors in the country are making their plans and preparations for the time after December 24. The normalization process in the country is advancing on its toes, and the balance that the provisional government is trying to establish with foreign actors may be turned upside down after December 24. Completely different variables may enter the table. It seems that all the actors are aware of this fact and have started to review their positions. In the very unknown Libya equation, the most guaranteed way for Turkey to protect its interests is to develop good relations with all Libyan actors and to cooperate with actors such as Russia and Egypt, whose interests, if not converge, at least do not collide when viewed in a wide angle.

Cansu YİĞİT

Cansu Yiğit, graduatet from Ankara University, Department of History, has worked as journalist. She started as an economy correspondent, and then worked in the fields of security and foreign policy. She worked as an editor and editor-in-chief of daily newspaper Aydınlık. Currently, she works for the Belt and Road Initiative Quarterly (BRIQ) magazine.


[1]  https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/libya-baskanlik-konseyi-baskani-el-menfi-turkiye-ile-ortak-cikarlarin-yeni-donemde-korunacagini-vurguladi/2204673)

[2]  Mücahit Aydemir, “Libya’nın Yeni Başbakanı Dibeybe, Dost ve Müttefik Türkiye ile Dayanışma içinde Olacaklarını Söyledi”, Anadolu Ajansı, 7 Şubat 2021.

[3] Frédéric Bobin , “En Libye, l’ombre de la Turquie et de la Russie plane sur le compromis politique”, Le Monde, 8 Şubat 2021.

[4] Jihâd Gillon “Abdulhamid al-Dabaiba : Pour de vraies élections en Libye, il faut une Constitution” Jeune Afriqu, 2 Ağustos 2018.

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