Apr 18 2019

Turkey faces setbacks in Libya, Sudan - analyst

Turkey and its Gulf ally Qatar have suffered setbacks in Africa following the ousting of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and the advance of General Khalifa Haftar’s forces against the Islamist government in Tripoli, said an analysis for The Jerusalem Post.

Qatar and Turkey are close regional allies and have long supported the Bashir regime and the west Libya government in Tripoli.

“In both cases the countries have sided with hardline religious groups, including Muslim Brotherhood-influenced parties,” Seth Franzman, founder and executive director of U.S. think tank the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis wrote for Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

“Qatar and Turkey backed Sudan’s regime leader Omar al-Bashir for years, but now find themselves challenged after Bashir was pushed from power,” Franzman said.

Turkey had sent high-level military delegations to Sudan, leased Suakin Island to develop it as a tourism hub, and delivered significant aid in an effort to expand its influence in the Horn of Africa.

Protests gathered steam in Sudan early this year and the military stepped in last week to remove Bashir, who had been in power since 1993.

“Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for genocide in Darfur,” said Franzman. “However, U.S. allies such as Turkey and Qatar have worked closely with the war criminal over the years.”

Highlighting Ankara’s opposition to the leadership change, an op-ed at Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT worried that the overthrow of Bashir could lead to a counter-revolution backed by Turkey’s regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In Libya, Haftar has backing from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as Russia and France. Qatar and Turkey back the Islamist government in Tripoli as part of their post-Arab spring alignment with Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups.

Haftar launched an offensive in early April to take Tripoli, aiming to unify Libya after eight years of intermittent war. After the UAE noted suspicious plane traffic from Turkey to Libya, Haftar reportedly coordinated the start of his Tripoli attack with Turkey’s shifting from one airport to another in Istanbul.

“As a military strategist, you want to take advantage of this kind of situation, even if it’s 10 hours,” an expert said, according to Franzman.

Still, the fates of Libya and Sudan remain undecided, and Qatar and Turkey have major interests in both countries, according to Franzman.

“Both are also U.S. allies and will want to leverage support in Washington to influence the outcome in these north African states,” said Franzman, adding that their Arab rivals will also work to gain influence in both countries.