New concern about Turkey’s intent as Libyan talks start in Tunis

Ankara seen inciting its proxies in Libya not to comply with the outcome of the Tunis meetings, amid speculation about forthcoming visit by Erdogan to Tripoli.
Monday 09/11/2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj arrive for a joint press conference in Ankara on June 4.( AFP)

TUNIS –Meetings of the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Dialogue Forum between the Libyan parties begin today, Monday, in Tunis.

This new round of talks is supposed to carry on with the outcomes of the previous UN-sponsored political and military dialogue platforms previously held in Berlin, Germany, Cairo (Egypt), Bouznika (Morocco), Geneva (Switzerland), and Ghadames (Libya).

Libyan sources participating in this forum said that the Libyan meetings, which will be opened today by Tunisian President Kais Saied, will focus on creating a consensual, unified and temporary executive authority to manage the country’s affairs during a limited transitional period, and on developing understandings on a constitutional and legal basis to hold general elections as soon as possible.

These sources did not rule out that the participants in these meetings would sign a pledge not to run for any political or executive office during the transitional period, in accordance with the understandings about the criteria for selecting officials for the sovereign state positions reached during the second round of the Bouznika meetings in Morocco.

At the same time, however, the sources feared that the Tunis meetings would confront political differences and manoeuvres that would end the current cautious optimism. They justified their fears by what they described as the state of hysteria that is currently afflicting Islamist organisations and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militias, all of whom have recently escalated their rhetoric in an effort to sway the balance of power in their favour during the Tunis meetings.

Observers described this fear as legitimate for several considerations, perhaps the most important of which is the growing doubts about the commitment of the pro-Turkish militias to the outcomes of the military agreement reached by the 5 + 5 Joint Military Committee, which are supposed to be translated into a political agreement during the Tunis meetings.

This escalation was evident in the wake of the Turkish moves aimed at inciting its proxies in Libya not to comply with the outcome of the Tunis meetings. It has even come to the point of leaking information about an upcoming visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tripoli within the next two days.

This visit, which was revealed by Turkish media, citing diplomatic sources, contributed to increasing concern over Turkey’s efforts to spoil the atmosphere of optimism surrounding the Tunis meetings, by rearranging the cards to meet its interests and preserve its influence in Libya.

Libyan political activist Abdul Hakim Fannoush supports this reading. “If this visit is confirmed, it will come within the framework of declaring Erdogan’s hegemony and continuing his rule over the western region of Libya. Through it, he wants to say ‘I’m still here and I run this region… and any settlement cannot be completed without my consent and taking into account Turkey’s interests and its vision for the region’,” Fannoush told The Arab Weekly by phone.

He further pointed out that Erdogan had previously hinted at his rejection of the agreement reached by the 5 + 5 Joint Military Committee, describing it as a “fragile truce”. He also hinted at his rejection of any agreement that might take place in Tunis. “Consequently, there is no reason why Erdogan should give up his hegemony over western Libya unless a different position is imposed on Turkey by the United States and the European Union,” Fannoush added.

The Tunis meetings are held amid movements occurring on the ground that have resulted in changes in the maps of alliances and the balance of power, plus the major political change in the United States, represented by the election of a new president who does not hide his differences with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The latter had already taken steps aimed at disrupting the Tunis meetings. With respect to Biden, however, it is too early to predict his future policy towards Turkey, although he had previously called Erdogan a “tyrant” and threatened him with having to “pay a heavy tribute” one day.

Over the past four years, Turkey has transformed into a regional power and expanded in the Mediterranean region, which presents new challenges to the White House, especially as Washington needs strong allies in a region that still suffers from major security problems.

Former Tunisian Foreign Minister, Mongi Hamdi, believes that the recent developments in the United States will certainly have positive effects on the course of the Libyan crisis, which, with the Tunis meetings, would almost have reached the final stage. The results of these meetings are supposed to top all of the other dialogue tracks with the much-sought after political settlement in Libya.

Hamdi told The Arab Weekly that Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House “will consolidate the push towards the success of the peace process in Libya, which means that Turkey has no choice but to adhere to the will of the international community which is also keen on the success of the peaceful political process in Libya.”

Tunisia, which has regained its role in the Libyan file, has high hopes for these meetings that will see the participation for the first time of the supporters of the regime of the late Colonel Muammar Gadhafi.

Tunisian Foreign Minister, Othman Jerandi, announced that more than 75 representatives of the political and social spectrum of the Libyan society will be participating in the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunis, which represents “an important and decisive step” in the process of the political settlement of the Libyan crisis.

The UN mission in Libya had set the tone for the forum by indicating, in a statement, that it is being held based on the outcomes of the Berlin Conference on Libya, which the UN Security Council approved in its resolutions 2510 and 2542, stressing at the same time that it aims to achieve a unified vision for the restoration of Libya’s sovereignty and democratic legitimacy for the Libyan institutions.