Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Libyan political sources said that outgoing Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah has rejected a Turkish offer to mediate between him and the newly sworn-in Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha, clearly aimed at avoiding military escalation between the two camps.
The sources add that Dbeibah, who is wary of the breakdown of cohesion within his own cabinet, has urged his ministers to “take their decisions boldly and courageously” and not to heed “rumours”.
Sources close to the new prime minister told The Arab Weekly that “the Turks have yet to disclose the content of their mediation bid as they have sought first to obtain the consent of the two parties, but Dbeibah rejected their offer, expressing readiness to use military means in his showdown with Bashagha, who has, on the contrary, accepted the Turkish mediation offer.”
Ankara’s intervention seems to have worried Dbeibah as it constituted a tacit recognition of the Bashagha government, which would mean, for all practical purposes, be the end of the Dbeibah mandate. He accordingly turned down Turkey’s mediation offer saying he was ready to use military force against his rival.
On Sunday, Dbeibah had met the Turkish ambassador to Tripoli, Kenan Yilmaz. According to the media office of the outgoing government, they discussed political developments and the prospects of the Libyan electoral process.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has remained neutral in Dbeibah-Bashagha stand-off. He told reporters last month, “Our ties with Fathi Bashagha are good. On the other hand, (ties) are also good with Dbeibah”.
He added that “The important thing is who the Libyan people choose and how”.
Erdoğan’s statements confirm recent speculation that Bashagha has managed in recent months to gain Turkey’s neutrality on the power struggle in Libya.
Turkey had provided military support and training to the former Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), in which Bashagha held the position of minister of interior. It also helped it repel a months-long military campaign against the capital, Tripoli, by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
Ankara still maintains Syrian soldiers and mercenaries on the ground in Libya. But Turkey is seen as being in good position to resolve the current power struggle and prevent the formation of parallel administrations in Tripoli.
Observers say that it is in Turkey’s interest today to support the forging of a Libyan consensus.
Abdulhamid Dbeibah had sought to maintain strong ties with Ankara. He has signed many agreements with Turkish companies since his coming to power. Analysts believe, however, that Ankara is positioning itself to exploit the calm that prevails in the wider region to cultivate closer relations with forces in the eastern part of Libya.
Supporting the Bashagha government would bolster Turkish economic influence in both the east and south of the country as well as in the west. This could make possible a unified Libyan position on the maritime border demarcation agreement that was previously rejected by Parliament. This would shore up Ankara’s position vis-à-vis Greece.
On Sunday, Dbeibah called on his government ministers to continue to carry out their duties. He reiterated his refusal to hand over power except to a government emanating from a new parliament elected by the people. In a speech during the opening of a cabinet meeting in the capital, he called on his ministers not to pay attention to the rumours being circulated and to take their decisions “with boldness and courage.”
On Thursday, Bashagha addressed a letter to state institutions and executive and judicial authorities, in which he ordered them “not to take into account any decisions issued by the Government of National Unity,” whose term in office he described as having “ended”.
It was initially agreed between Libyan political players that the Dbeibah government’s mandate would finish on Dec. 24, 2021, the date set by the Political Dialogue Forum as the day for presidential elections, which the GNU failed to hold.
Fears are rising that Libya will slide back into political strife or civil war, with Dbeibah clinging to power and refusing Turkish conciliation.
But many analysts are intrigued by Dbeibah’s choice of the military option considering that the balance of power is in favour of Bashagha, who enjoys the support of the major armed groups in the western region, as well as LNA troops in the eastern region.
In the meanwhile, Dbeibah seems to be trying to remedy to his military weakness by wooing commanders in the western region. On Sunday, he met the chief of staff of the army Muhammad Al-Haddad and the Director of the Military Intelligence Department and the Commander of the Western Military Region, Osama Al-Juwaili.
The meetings came in the wake of reports that Bashagha was preparing to enter the capital with the help of Zintan tribes, to which Juwaili belongs.
Observers believe Dbeibah is likely to have discussed two issues with Juwaili: preventing Bashagha’s plane from landing at Zintan Airport and ending the blockade of the Al Sharara and Al Fil fields, which were shut down by a unit of the Petroleum Facilities Guards in protest at the delay in disbursing their salaries.
The United Nations and Washington’s ambassador to Libya on Monday urged the lifting of the blockade.
Stephanie Williams, UN chief Antonio Guterres’s special advisor on the North African nation, said she was following the reports “with concern”.
“Blocking oil production deprives all Libyans from their major source of revenue,” Williams wrote on Twitter. “The oil block should be lifted”.
US Ambassador Richard Norland also called for the blockade to “be lifted immediately”.
Oil revenues are vital to the war-torn country, which sits on Africa’s largest known reserves.
Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said the latest blockade would slash state revenues by around $35 million a day.
(A version of this article was originally published by the Arab Weekly and is reproduced by permission.)