Op-Ed: Turkey responds to its exclusion from Palermo meeting by a new plan in Libya – Al Marsad

Libya – Turkey and its allies have again been discovered pursuing duplicitous diplomatic and international policies in regard to Libya. While repeatedly declaring its well-meaning intentions to solve the crisis there, it has been sending weapons to various Libyan ports, the most recent being the caches discovered last month and this month in Khoms and Misrata ports respectively. There has also been the case of illegal Turkish weapons discovered in Tobruk. Last year there was the boatload of explosives seized by the Greek authorities being shipped from Mersin and heading to Misrata.

In early March last year, Ali Sallabi, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization, began efforts in Istanbul to form a group called the “Peace and Reconciliation Bloc” ahead of the Paris conference held in May. The conference, organised by French President Emmanuel Macron and attended by the head of the Presidency Council Faiez Sarraj, Libya National Army head Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, House of Representatives president Ageela Saleh and State Council president Khaled al-Mishri, had been aimed at ending Libya’s divisions by setting a timetable for elections.

Sallabi and his colleagues tried to create a momentum for the bloc, including reaching out to a group of dissident members of the Supreme Council for Sufism who had been ejected from it. The bloc tried to give the impression that it supported religious pluralism. However, the idea of being a partner with Sufism did not go anywhere her and interest in the bloc faded. Now Sallabi is trying again, with attempts to build new alliances, including with some tribal elders.

Al-Youm Al-Sabaa, a leading newspaper in Cairo, is prominent in reporting that Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood has been re-organizing its ranks in Turkey so as to return to the political scene in Libya and dominate the Libyan state institutions by forming a “national bloc”.

The newspaper says that the group is trying to replicate the Libya Tomorrowproject launched by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in the mid-2000s. Its project was to reach out to Libyan exiles and build a new positive relationship with the international community. One of its results was a reconciliation with Sallabi and then through him with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and its leader Abdulhakim Belhaj.

According to Al-Youm Al-Sabaa, what is happening now is a new move led by Turkey and Qatar who are pushing the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and its leaders to dominate the Libyan political scene. This is being done by the so-called project of national reconciliation promoted by Sallabi. There is, the paper says, a Turkish-Qatari roadmap being implemented by the Brotherhood to again extend the latter’s influence on Libyan state institutions, as was the case when the MB controlled the former General National Congress.

Sallabi’s current plan, according to the newspaper, is based on encouraging supporters of the former regime to join his bloc. The aim of the new alliance with them, it says, is to change his bloc’s image. With a number of former Qaddafi supporters participating in its meetings, he will claim that the bloc represents all components of Libya society, thus providing political cover for the Brotherhood’s real intentions.

Sallabi’s political and religious ideas has been largely influenced by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based Egyptian-born spiritual head of the international Muslim Brotherhood. In 2004, Qaradawi founded the controversial “International Union of Muslim Scholars”, which is funded by Qatar and like him is based in Doha. Last year it was listed as a terrorist organization by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.. He himself has been banned from entering a number of countries, including the France, the UK and the US.

In November, Sallabi was one of the nominees to succeed Qaradawi as head of the union in elections held in Istanbul after Qaradawi had announced he would stand down. In the event, Moroccan Ahmad al-Raysuni won, with 93 percent of the vote of the 1,500 members participating.

The Egyptian newspaper believes that the current state of affairs in Libya is such that any attempt to reproduce the Libya Tomorrowproject using former regime supporters will not work. That is partly because the political scene is very different to what was happening in Libya in 2007 but also because the Qaddafi supporters are now split into different organizations and groups.

Al-Youm Al-Sabaafurther says that the decision by Turkey to escalate its interference in the Libya by arming militias belonging to the political Islamists and their organization of political conferences under the supervision of the Brotherhood is in reaction to its marginalization at the Palermo conference hosted by Italy in November. Turkey was not invited to the key meeting attended by Sarraj and Haftar along with the Egyptian and Tunisian presidents, the Italian, Russian and Algerian prime ministers and the French foreign minister. As a result, Turkish President Erdogan ordered Vice President Fuat Oktay to walk out.

In the view of Al-Youm Al-Sabaa, Sallabi’s project is based on linking religion to politics and trying to create a thread between current affairs and the history of the Ottoman Caliphate. It will not succeed, the newspaper says, because it fails to understand the enormous differences between current reality in Libya and the period of the Islamic conquests and power.

Sallabi wants his a bloc to take part in the upcoming legislative elections and then be able to dictate who becomes the Libyan prime minister, it states, but he does not face up to the fact that the Brotherhood will not again dominate the political scene or exclude others as it did in the former General National Congress. (The latter has since become the State Council).

The project, the newspaper continues, has also targeted the Libyan military establishment, putting forward ideas that undermine the role of the army forces in securing the country. It wants to curtail its capacity to deal with armed entities in the country and plans to dispose with the current military leadership, it says.

Sallabi, it states, also wants to increase the power of the Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) in Libya, calling departments of guidance to be set up in Libyan ministries. It is identical to the proposal of controversial mufti Sadiq Al-Ghariani and is based on the notion of linking religion with politics and giving clerics the right to intervene in political, social, and economic affairs under the pretext of raising awareness and guidance of ordinary Libyan citizens.

The newspaper stresses that the project as presented by Sallabi, using the guiseof “peace and national reconciliation”, is a calculated move to empower political Islamists in Libya. It says that, actively backed by Turkey and Qatar, he is using the the idea of alliance with a number of individual former regime devotees as well as some supporters of the February 17 Revolution to legitimize the Brotherhood bloc so that it can return to the political scene and dominate Libyan institutions.

In particular, according to Al-Youm Al-Sabaa, Sallabi is promoting one of the MB’s young leaders to head the national bloc. Walid al-Lafi is currently director of the Turkish-based Al-NabaaTVchannel itself owned by Abdulhakim Belhaj, founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.  The newspaper says that Lafi is currently in charge of several pages of the Brotherhood’s social networking sites and has taken a prominent role in promoting LIFG and the Brotherhood.

It also accuses Lafi of using the various media platforms in a campaign of mistrust against the Libyan army led by Field Marshal Haftar by spreading disinformation and rumors about the armed forces’ leaders and promoting ideas about restructuring the army and changing its current leadership. These platforms include Al-Nabaa which has been broadcasting a series of interviews with Sallabi under the title of “The Desired State”, plus various pages on social networking sites such as “Qalam Rasas”.

Lafi has not commented on the matter.

The newspaper ends its report noting that LIFG and Libyan Muslim Brotherhood leaders have scheduled a meeting in Istanbul for January 25, 2019 at which of some supporters of the former Libyan regime are due to attend, the aim being alliance,which provide Sallabi with greater recognition of his bloc so that it could then play a role in Libya’s current political conflict.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s intention to further strengthen its alliance with Qatar was confirmed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a launch on Sunday of Turkey’s first motor engine by Turkish-Qatari armoured vehicles manufacturer BMC at its new factory at the Black Sea town of Karasu, some 200 kilometres east of Istanbul. The engine is designed for use in armoured vehicles. On November 9 the Turkish government signed a multi-billion dollar contract with BMC, to build the Altay, Turkey’s first tank.

In his speech at BMC, the Turkish president said that the Turkish-Qatari opertion was “an exemplary step towards the future based on the win-win principle of both countries. From now on, Turkey and Qatar cooperation will continue to strengthen”.

He singled out defence,  tourism and energy as areas that would see increased cooperation.

“We have never forgotten and will never forget the solidarity shown to our country by our Qatari brothers on nearly all issues – from the July 15 coup attempt to the attacks in August on exchange rates,” he said.

In August last year, Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani promised to invest $15bn in Turkey in a move as aimed at bolstering the struggling Turkish economy and ending the currency crisis that saw the lira fall by nearly 30 percent against the dollar last year.

“We stand by the brothers in Turkey that have stood with the issues of the Muslim world and with Qatar,” Sheikh Tamim tweeted at the time.

The Turkish lira has now again fallen after US president Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that the United States would “devastate Turkey economically” if Ankara attacked US-allied Kurdish forces in Syria.


Opinion and Op-Ed articles do not necessarily reflect the views of Almarsad