Libya is a launchpad for Ankara’s designs in Sudan and beyond

Erdogan realised his losses in Egypt and Sudan were a major blow to his Arab and African ambitions.
Wednesday 27/05/2020
Sudan’s deposed military president Omar al-Bashir sits in a defendant’s cage during his trial in Khartoum, last December. (AFP)
Bygone era. Sudan’s deposed military president Omar al-Bashir sits in a defendant’s cage during his trial in Khartoum, last December. (AFP)

CAIRO--Turkish military involvement in Libya, including its efforts to bring thousands of extremists into the North Africa country carries a clear message: Ankara will not forget its setbacks in Egypt with the military overthrow of late president Muhammad Morsi in July 2013 that brought down the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated regime.

Ankara did not initially feel the full impact of the shift in Egypt because it was relying on Sudan as its main haven for extremist groups.

But the fall of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s regime a year ago came to represent a second, more painful blow.

The new regime in Khartoum sent direct signals to Ankara that the ties it had established with Bashir would no longer hold, nor would agreements that almost led to Turkish control of the Suakin Island in the Red Sea.

While Turkey failed to secure the Suakin Island, it remains unclear if it will successfully retain influence over militant groups in Sudan, as the government focuses on dismantling the remnants of the fallen regime.

However, Sudan’s efforts have not fully targeted extremist groups that have remained dormant in Darfur, which retain good relations with both Turkey and Qatar.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan realised that his losses in Egypt and Sudan were a major blow to his Arab and African ambitions and a strategic setback for his project in the region. He is trying to make up for the setbacks.

The Turkish regime played all its cards in the recent battles in western Libya, even more quickly than it signed the two deals on maritime boundaries and military cooperation with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in November.

The deals were part of an effort to salvage Erdogan’s project in North Africa by ramping up pressure on Egypt, and forcing Sudan to refrain from additional measures that could further harm Turkish interests.

Today, Ankara is focusing on securing its presence in western Libya, blocking the operations carried out by the Libyan National Army (LNA) so that it can move south. It is also attempting to exert leverage over northern Chad, which is struggling to deal with the Boko Haram extremist group, and to pressure Sudan from the north, where it could dig a direct road to Darfur before Khartoum can reach a settlement with the armed groups and prevent Ankara from taking hold there.

The spokesman of the Arab League for Sudan, Suleiman Sirri, said that it is clear Erdogan is smuggling Islamists from Sudan to Tripoli to take part in the war effort.

Egypt: Libya’s and Sudan’s neighbour.
Egypt: Libya’s and Sudan’s neighbour.

Sirri told Al-Arab that Libya is a strategic country for Erdogan in his plans to boost the counter-revolution in Sudan where is offering media and logistical support to Bashir loyalists.

It remains unclear if Turkey’s presence in Libya will prove a successful starting point for its expansion in Central Africa, where numerous Islamist groups are active.

Strong links bind the Justice and Equality Movement in Darfur (JEM) to Turkey and Qatar. There is also evidence linking some of JEM’s militants to alleged terror attacks in Tripoli.

Sudanese political activist Hatem Ilias agreed that Turkey’s presence in Libya is part of its strategy for a comeback after Bashir’s ouster. While Qatar is using media influence, Turkey is sending money and weapons to those who support the former regime in Darfur.

Ilias stated that Ankara is trying to deal with the decline in influence of Islamists in both Egypt and Sudan by working from a country that shares borders with them both. First, Erdogan is relying on militias in Libya to try to revive the Muslim Brotherhood’s movement, he said. The second step in his project will be to provide Sudan’s Islamic movement with money and arms.