Turkey’s support of Tripoli is about investments, ideology, East Med energy

Turkey’s backing of Libya’s internationally recognised government in Tripoli seeks to support fellow Islamists, rescue billions worth of investments and gain leverage in the scramble for energy in the eastern Mediterranean, Bloomberg and Deutsche Welle reported.

Turkey’s support for the Islamist-rooted Government of National Accord (GNA) has been in the spotlight since the capture of six Turkish nationals last month by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar.

“Ankara's involvement has infuriated the general,” DW reported. “The LNA has banned commercial flights between the two countries, prohibited Turkish ships from docking on the Libyan coast and threatened to arrest Turkish citizens.”

The Turkish captives were freed only after Turkey threatened to take military action against the LNA, which is backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which are opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey has in recent months sent shipments of armoured vehicles and military drones to help the GNA halt Haftar’s assault on the capital. 

Many observers have said that Turkey, run by Erdoğan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), was drawn into the conflict due to the AKP’s ideological closeness to Muslim Brotherhood elements in the GNA. This is likely not the only reason. 

“Turkey’s main goal in backing the Tripoli-based government of Fayez al-Sarraj is to ensure it will eventually be able to resume construction projects worth about $18 billion,” Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Starting decades ago, the work of Turkish builders in Libya steadily increased over the years. Following the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, Turkish firms evacuated some 25,000 workers, abandoning lucrative projects including hospitals, malls and hotels, according to Bloomberg. 

Now Ankara is backing the GNA to recoup those investments. “The more areas Haftar seizes from the unity government, the smaller the chances the companies will see their money again,” said DW. 

Restoring stability in Libya, the officials told Bloomberg, would also help Turkey strengthen its hand in the competition for control of energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey is vying with Cyprus for control of potential offshore energy finds and wants to become the main conduit to Europe for natural gas supplies from the eastern Mediterranean,” said Bloomberg. 

The Tripoli-based government has boasted of Turkey’s support, including releasing images of Turkish-made armoured cars. “We are providing some support in line with their requests,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters on June 20. Some have argued that Ankara should be sanctioned for its support of Libya’s Islamists, in violation of the UN embargo.  

Oytun Orhan of the Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies believes the conflict could escalate further.  "Libya effectively remains divided," he told DW. "They won't reach any agreement, because neither side has an advantage over the other that it can build on.”