Libya took a leap towards stability, after ten years of chaos, terrorism, and division. The executive authority elections, supervised by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), as part of the Libya Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), were announced, last week. The new Presidential Council of Libya will have the diplomat, Mohamed Yunus Al-Mnefi, as President, and the famous businessman Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, as Prime Minister.
Since the elections, Turkish officials have been making press statements desperately attempting to prove that the newly elected government supports Turkey’s continued military presence on Libyan soil. The stepping down Government of National Accord (GNA) opened the Libyan door wide for Turkey, over the past year, to build military bases and deploy Turkish military personnel and Turkey-affiliated mercenaries into Libya. However, the new government in Libya, whose primary mission is to foster unity, is not expected to give Turkey the same luxurious treatment. While Turkish officials still speak about Libya as if it is a state inside Turkey, Libyan officials of the newly elected government speak about Turkey as a friend and ally, within the normal diplomatic relations between the two sovereign states.
Libya's new Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh described Libya’s relationship with Turkey as a relationship of friendship, partnership, and alliance, by saying: "Turkey is an ally, friend, and a brotherly state, and it has huge capabilities to help the Libyans achieve their real goals. Turkey is considered a real partner to Libya… I believe that the freedom of movement will reflect positively on economic cooperation between the Libyan and Turkish peoples. We hope to bolster this cooperation and enhance our trade exchange to the highest level." Unlike what the Turkish media has been trying to portray for public opinion, the new government in Libya did not welcome or applaud Turkey’s military presence on Libyan soil.
Meanwhile, Turkish Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar, who enjoyed a tremendous influence over decision-making inside the GNA, commented on the new Libya government by saying that Turkey’s “relationship with Libya's new government is fine. We are not counted as foreign troops in Libya. We are thereupon an invitation from the Libyan government, which we signed a military cooperation and training agreement with. We help the regular army. No problem with that. In the meantime, we closely monitor the affairs of France, Greece, and UAE there.”
In December 2019, Turkey signed two agreements with the interim Government of National Accord (GNA). The first was a maritime demarcation agreement defining an Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) extending in the Mediterranean from southwest borders of Turkey to northeast borders of Libya. Despite the fact that this maritime agreement does not conform with governing UN conventions or related stipulations of international law, Turkey used the agreement to turn around its decades-long conflict with Greece over seabed rights in the Mediterranean. Upon this agreement, Turkey deployed a seismic research ship that operated in the waters for months, causing tension with Greece and European allies. This turned the mostly quiet basin of the Mediterranean into a piece of hell, last summer, as warships, submarines, military helicopters, and fighter jets from all over the world, came to participate in the ongoing tragedy, under the guise of conducting joint navy exercises.
The second agreement, which Turkey signed with Libya’s GNA around the same date, is a military training, support, and consultancy agreement. Upon this military agreement, Turkey deployed military troops and equipment to Libya and is currently training GNA militia at Turkish military colleges. In December, Hulusi Akar stated that “three thousand Libyans received training as part of the training, support, and consultancy agreement between Turkey and GNA.” The military agreement between Turkey and GNA is reminiscent of the military agreement that Turkey signed with Azerbaijan in the 1990s, which enabled Turkey to build, almost from scratch, a capable Azerbaijani military that is loyal to Turkish leadership. The recent victory of Azerbaijan in the war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region enhanced Turkey’s power over the Caucasus and improved its economic opportunities throughout Eurasia.
On January 26th, the Libyan Al-Bayda Administrative Court ruled that the two maritime and military agreements between Libya and Turkey are illegal and infringe on the Libyan state's sovereignty. This court decision reaffirmed the arguments that the Libyan parliament presented, earlier, to justify parliament's decline to approve the two agreements.
In addition, the continuation of the military presence in Libya, for the next eighteen months, which was approved by the Turkish parliament in December, violates the ceasefire agreement issued under the auspices of the United Nations within the framework of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which set the date of January 23rd as a deadline for the exit of all foreign military troops and their affiliated mercenaries from Libya. Turkey has the largest number of military personnel and mercenaries inside Libya. Over the past year alone, Turkey deployed more than three thousand military personnel and experts to Libya, to supervise more than 18 thousand mercenaries, mostly recruited from Syria. This is a huge number of military troops and mercenaries if compared, for example, to about two thousand Russia-affiliated mercenaries inside Libya, from the Wagner group.
The newly elected government in Libya indeed has an interim status. However, the success of the election process, and the diverse composition of the elected officials, marks Libya’s entry into a completely new political future. Future Libya is a country that works through unity and reconciliation between the eastern and western conflicting factions, to achieve security and stability. Thus, Turkey and all other countries will not have a place inside Libya, anymore. Instead, they have a place next to Libya as diplomatic friends or allies that respect Libya’s sovereignty and independence. That is what Turkish officials need to understand if they are still interested in keeping good relationships between Turkey and Libya.