What to expect in Libya after Turkey and Egypt's diplomatic thaw
Libya's more than a decade-long political deadlock has been a major hindrance to stability in the country.
In addition to the North African country's chronic domestic issues, the rift between regional countries and international actors has been another obstacle towards a permanent solution.
In the past few years, these active international and regional actors have supported different political figures in the country. Egypt, under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's presidency, has supported warlord Khalifa Haftar against the internationally recognised and UN-backed government of Libya, which Turkey supports.
However, Gulf countries and other regional actors have been attempting to normalise their ties in recent years, which could pave the way for a resolution to the region’s larger political conflicts, including Libya.
"It will be very difficult to align the foreign policies of the UAE, Egypt, and Turkey on Libya. Geopolitical recalibrations in the region currently emphasise freezing conflicts over fully resolving them"
Since the toppling of Egypt's first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013, Ankara and Cairo’s relations have soured. Attempts at rapprochement, which emerged in the spring of 2020, are now becoming increasingly more official, with both countries announcing the reinstatement of their ambassadors last week.
In addition, Sisi is expected to visit Turkey within the coming weeks to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Libya is a topic anticipated to be on the table for both presidents. But what kind of outcomes could be expected?
Speaking to The New Arab, Sami Hamdi, editor-in-chief of the International Interest, says there could be a positive dialogue between the two countries regarding Libya, but the challenge will be in how Ankara balances the UAE and Egypt, who rarely see eye to eye on Libya and both want to leverage Turkish interests in their favour.
For Emadeddin Badi, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, Libya will remain an issue where Turkish and Egyptian policy does not necessarily align. Some expect their rapprochement to come at the expense of prime minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU) Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s influence, but this is unlikely to be the case, according to the analyst.
"Despite making overtures towards Egypt for a while now, Ankara has allowed Dbeibah to become entrenched, as its interests in Libya are perceived to be better safeguarded under his aegis," he said.
Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said Erdogan cares greatly about mending fences with Sisi - and vice-versa.
"This process began in the spring of 2020, but its most formal, most visible phases were due to happen after Turkey's general elections of May 2023. Although the process is certain to happen, there aren't many spaces for it to manifest in meaningful and tangible ways," Harchaoui told The New Arab.
What next for Libya's political elite?
Ankara and Cairo are considered among the leading actors who could help solve Libya’s deadlock, but many wonder whether their mutual efforts, which come amid Turkey's improving relations with the UAE, can work.
According to Hamdi, although international powers have exacerbated Libya’s crisis, the reality is that the conflict, in its essence, is a very local one between Libyan factions who are notoriously prone to switching their international allies.
"Although Turkey, Egypt, and the UAE might be able to come to an accord to push Libyan factions into a dialogue and political process, Libyan factions are still able to easily 'shop' internationally in Paris, Washington, Riyadh, Rome, Athens, Moscow and Algiers for alternative and effective leverage if they do not like what is being pushed on them," Hamdi argued.
"Libyan factions are still able to easily 'shop' internationally in Paris, Washington, Riyadh, Rome, Athens, Moscow, and Algiers for alternative and effective leverage if they do not like what is being pushed on them"
Badi, for his part, says that Libyan elites benefit from international divides as they can, and will, try to lean on other powers to mould the status quo in ways amenable to them.
"It will be very difficult to align the foreign policies of the UAE, Egypt, and Turkey on Libya. Geopolitical recalibrations in the region currently emphasise freezing conflicts over fully resolving them - whether due to a lack of political will or ineptitude,” he told TNA.
“I also do not think a sustainable solution to Libya's ills can be assured without a more neutral and influential arbiter and without a process that engages Libya's alienated citizenry."
There is no doubt amid such developments that Haftar's position has the potential to either exacerbate or calm the situation in Libya.
"There is certainly room for dialogue and discussion between Haftar and Turkey that might advance a political process (albeit one that is less than ideal). It remains to be seen, however, to what extent Ankara is inclined towards this and how Cairo would react to any exclusive warming of ties between Ankara and Haftar," Hamdi said.
Badi, on the other hand, argues that Haftar is very clearly weary of the Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement, and particularly over the fact that Cairo has warmed to Dbeibah and his GNU.
"This is manifested by Egyptian intelligence visits to Tripoli and Shoukry's attendance of the preparatory Arab League meeting in Jeddah in May, where he sat next to the GNU FM Mangoush,” the analyst said.
“This was interpreted as quasi-abandonment by Haftar, who has since redoubled his diplomatic outreach (and stunts) to remind Cairo of his LAAF's (and by extension, him and his sons') importance," Badi added.
Dr Ufuk Necat Tasci is a political analyst, academic, and journalist. His research areas and interests include Libya, the foreign policy of Turkey, proxy wars, surrogate warfare, and new forms of conflict and history
Follow him on Twitter: @UfukNecat