Turkey’s Erdoğan aims to repair Muslim Brotherhood failings with Libya gains – analysts

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to compensate for his failure to establish Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated governments in the Middle East and North Africa by expanding Turkey’s military presence in Libya, analysts writing for the National Interest said. 

Turkey is backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in its fight against rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

The National Interest said that the Libyan conflict had given Erdoğan the opportunity to put pressure on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – which back the LNA and are rivals for geopolitical influence in the region.

“The battlefield also offers Erdoğan a chance to flex his neo-Ottomanist ideology - Libya holds an important place in the hearts of the late empire’s admirers, who see Italy’s 1912 conquest of the territory as a stinging defeat, and the present conflict as an opportunity avenge the perceived injustice,” the National Interest said.

While Erdoğan supports the GNA for ideological and geopolitical reasons, there is also an economic rationale, as Turkey is keen to assert its gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean. 

In January 2019, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority established the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in Cairo. France requested to join the forum as well and the United States has applied to become a permanent observer. 

“As Turkey’s ambitions and actions leave it further isolated, Erdoğan has come to see the GNA as a key ally in thwarting this growing partnership that aims to contain his maximalist maritime ambitions,” the National Interest said. 

Turkey signed a maritime boundary agreement with the GNA in November 2019 with the goal of creating a sea corridor between the two countries - cutting through a zone claimed by Greece and Egypt. 

Turkey also has ambitions to play a key economic role in post-pandemic Libya, with the head of the Turkey-Libya Business Council predicting that Turkey can increase the market share of its products in the country from 13 percent to 30 percent, the National Interest said.

“Given that the bitter hostility is not just about ideology, but also about the political survival of the governments and leaders involved, there does not seem to be a quick resolution to the Libyan civil war or any sustainable cessation to the armed conflict even during the coronavirus pandemic,” the National Interest said.