Daily Sabah (Turkey)

Turkey, Libya, Egypt recalibrat­e agendas in emerging East Med equation

- EDITOR ŞEYMA NAZLI GÜRBÜZ

THE CITIES of Istanbul and Ankara have recently been congested by an intense flow of diplomatic traffic. Last week’s visit by the EU leaders, which was undermined by the “Sofa Gate” crisis, and the visit of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is once again facing a major battle with Russia in the region’s hottest conflict zone, are just a few of the most recent visitors.

At the beginning of the week, Ankara hosted another very important guest. Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the prime minister of the Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU), and 14 ministers accompanyi­ng him were received in Ankara by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This visit, which is considered a historic moment, was a nod to the bilateral relations, the outcomes of the limited maritime jurisdicti­on agreement signed in November 2019 and the cease-fire reached in the country last year.

After the war that broke out in 2011, Turkey supported the national reconcilia­tion government, which has internatio­nal legitimacy representi­ng the Libyans, the country’s true proprietor­s, but it became a deterrent force in the country, both diplomatic­ally and militarily, in the face of illegitima­te putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his supporters.

TURKEY also exerted great efforts on the field and at the negotiatin­g table to secure the cease-fire.

Evidently, Turkey did not do this only for geopolitic­al gains and underlined at every point along the way that its actions were motivated by the centuries of cultural, historical and social common ground shared between the two nations. In fact, the nature of the relationsh­ip between the people of the two countries is first and foremost fraternal.

On the other hand, it seems that this fraternal bond is difficult to understand for countries like Italy, France, Russia, Greece and the United States, which have had one-sided relationsh­ips with Libya for many years. Representa­tives of these countries have intensifie­d shuttle diplomacy to Libya for months and now seek to take the lion’s share of Libya’s potential. This is made evident by the fact that the prime ministers of Malta, Greece and Italy have all repeatedly knocked on Libya’s door in recent weeks. All parties are interested in signing a deal similar to the one Libya struck with Turkey which allows it concession­s. But despite these efforts, they have all returned empty-handed so far, having not managed to ink a similar maritime authorizat­ion agreement.

In this sense, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s insulting statements against Turkey and President Erdoğan, while Dbeibah was in Ankara, should not come as a surprise at this point.

However, Draghi is not the only one who wants to overshadow Dbeibah’s visit to Turkey as Greece goes to great lengths to sabotage Turkey. Greece, which has recently been making efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Libya, wants Tripoli to ditch the maritime jurisdicti­ons agreement with Ankara for a similar deal with Athens.

After Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ latest visit to Libya, the Libyan Presidenti­al Council spokespers­on revealed that Athens proposed the two nations come to a compromise.

As it will be remembered, Muhammad Menfi, who is now the president of the Libyan Presidenti­al Council, was declared persona non grata by Athens because he did not reject this agreement with Turkey when he was ambassador in Greece. In Athens, where his hand was strengthen­ed last week, Menfi reminded Mitsotakis that under the Geneva Agreement, the Presidenti­al Council could not conclude any internatio­nal agreements, underlinin­g that it is under the authority of the Libya’s legitimate administra­tion, the Government of the National Accord (GNA).

Now Libya and Turkey have a lot to get done in order for the former to recover and prosper. During Dbeibah’s visit, the joint determinat­ion of the two countries was emphasized in the talks between leaders, ministers and delegation­s. Deals for projects in a wide range of sectors were signed, from energy, technology and defense to constructi­on, media, informatic­s and health. The fact that Turkey sent 150,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Libya during this pandemic was a small but meaningful symbol of the brotherhoo­d between the two countries.

On the other hand, given the fact that Hafter and his supporters are still active in Libya, forces loyal to the putschist could use asymmetric methods to overshadow the cooperatio­n between Turkey and Libya, something both Ankara and Tripoli are aware of. Hafter is still provided with weapons, ammunition and mercenary support by Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, while France, Italy and Greece as a trio continue to put diplomatic pressure on the country.

Meanwhile, another important developmen­t for Ankara that impacts relations within both players in the Eastern Mediterran­ean and Libya is that resuming diplomatic relations with Egypt. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu spoke with his Egyptian counterpar­t Sameh Shoukry on the phone over the weekend after a threeyear break.

Çavuşoğlu also told the media during the week that mutual visits with Egypt would take place in May, as the two countries enter a new era. He added that the talks will begin at the primary level between the deputy ministers of the two countries and noted that the nations may appoint respective ambassador­s in time.

Recently, both sides have signaled that relations are on course to normalize. Egypt signed a maritime jurisdicti­on agreement with Greece similar to the one Turkey and Libya signed. While Egypt did not completely ignore Turkey’s sensitivit­ies in the process, Cairo believes the deal with Greece does them more harm than good and has understood that Turkey is the right partner for its interests in the Eastern Mediterran­ean. After all, positive messages from Cairo came in gradually in response to Ankara’s positive messages.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry on Monday said Egypt is eager to strengthen bilateral relations based on internatio­nal law and develop a dialogue with Turkey that benefits both sides. Speaking to an Egyptian local broadcaste­r, he said that they appreciate Turkey’s recent remarks and gestures and underlined the importance of laying a foundation that determines the framework of bilateral ties.

All these developmen­ts bear strong signs that a new era is taking shape in the Eastern Mediterran­ean equation, especially between Libya, Egypt and Turkey. Ankara has shown Libya that it is a committed and reliable partner in this regard, and says it is willing to sit at the table with Egypt and come to another agreement in the Eastern Mediterran­ean.

Now, just as with Libya, important symbolic developmen­ts will take place in the coming period in relations between Egypt and Turkey which are deeply rooted in history. It seems inevitable that the national interests of the three countries will align in the geopolitic­s of the Eastern Mediterran­ean. But Ankara, Tripoli and Cairo must be prepared for sabotage and interventi­on by Greece, as well as attempts to undermine the potential for new equations in the region.

 ?? Nur Özkan Erbay ??
Nur Özkan Erbay

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