The Proxy War in Libya: Part 2, Qatar & Turkey

Libya Desk presents the second installment of a three-part investigation piece entitled “The Proxy War in Libya”.

Part 1 looks at the strategic geopolitical alliance between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt to fight off political Islam movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah — the so-called “Triad”.

Part 2 examines the private agendas of Qatar and Turkey, shedding light on their respective motives for being involved in the Libyan conflict.

Part 3 analyses Europe’s involvement in Libya and lays out the fundamental strategies and respective agendas of Italy, France and the UK.

Subscribe to Libya Desk to receive the unredacted investigation, complete with our private forecasts in PDF format.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar.

Standing firmly behind the GNA and having a more ideological bond to political Islam, Turkey and Qatar have very specific agendas when engaging with Libya’s political process. Turkey’s leading party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has ties to Muslim Brotherhood (MB) affiliated parties in Tripoli, such as the Justice and Construction Party, the Loyalty to the Martyrs Bloc — also known as Libya Dawn — and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Therefore, Ankara has continuously sought to support militant groups both logistically and financially, going as far as violating the UNSC Resolution 1973 that “calls upon all Member States, in particular States of the region, acting nationally or through regional organisations or arrangements, in order to ensure strict implementation of the arms embargo [in Libya] established by paragraphs 9 and 10 of resolution 1970 (2011)” by using its own national airliner Turkish Airlines to send weapons to Libya. In 2018, several Turkish-made explosive materials, handguns and ammunition were seized by Greece and Tripoli-based authorities. Most of those weapons were apparently meant to reach groups considered “terrorist” by several countries but which Turkey has decided to support as it believes — similarly to Qatar — that such forces continue the struggle against Gaddafi’s legacy of authoritarianism in Libya and aim at installing a popular government implementing Islamic laws.

Despite such involvement, Turkey’s importance in the Libyan quagmire should not be overstated. Ankara is one of the lesser foreign powers in the country and does not have the financial nor logistical muscle to see its allies win the war. Soft power remains the AKP’s best tool in guaranteeing its relevance abroad as followers of political Islam look up to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s legacy in Turkey. The Anatolian country has become a safe haven for Muslim Brotherhood members hunted elsewhere in the Middle East – top figures from the Benghazi Shura Council have permanent residency in Turkey, as well as internationally wanted criminals such as Salah Badi who has an ICC arrest warrant against him and Khalid Sherif, the deputy chief of the LIFG. Turkey mainly hopes to use Libya as a chip in a broader geopolitical game, by using its leverage over Islamists to gain relevance in the eyes of Washington and Brussels. Currently, Turkey is undergoing economic difficulties and a cold in relations with the US due to its purchase of Russian weaponry. It is possible that Ankara believes it can play Libya to its advantage to gain negotiating power with the West. Additionally, Turkish businessmen hope for Haftar’s defeat as the latter’s war against Libya Dawn has led to an exodus of Turkish businesses and contractors from Libya, the latter who had struck prolific deals during the last years of Gaddafi’s rule. In 2011, the Turkish Contractors' Association estimated that Turkish companies were involved in 360 projects across Libya, for a total value of $18bn.

Quotes Worth Sharing

“The Bank and the Brain”

The Turkish-Qatari relationship is built on a ideological foundation of spreading political Islam, with Ankara acting as the brains of the operation and Doha the bank.

Incapable of spreading their reach via brute force, the duo have relied on ideology. Long before the Arab spring took shape, Qatar set its foundation for its regional meddling via investing in Al Jazeera to become the main source of news in the Arab world, and establishing direct links with those affiliated with political Islam in the region. As soon as political unrest struck the region in 2011, Qatar managed to set the narratives via Al Jazeera, and has direct links with the only organised political groups (Muslim Brotherhood) aside the collapsing regimes of each respective Arab state. This gave Qatar the unique position of becoming a new regional heavyweight, having gained influence over a region in a matter of months. Turkey, on the other hand, stands on top of the political Islam hierarchy as the AKP model is the most successful in the region. Erdogan’s success in cementing his control over Turkey and him being the last standing world leader loyal to political Islam, led him to become the de facto cheerleader of all Muslim Brotherhood or Political Islam movements in the region.

This newly found influence, coupled with Erdogan’s own personal ambitions of becoming the new Khalifa-like figure for the Islamic world- resulted in Istanbul becoming the capital for political Islam in the Middle East, acting as a hub for all Muslim Brotherhood movements from the Arab world, along with Islamist organisations.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey (left) and DescriptionSheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar (right).

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey (left) and DescriptionSheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar (right).

As mentioned in Part 1 of the Proxy War series, the growing influence of Qatar and Turkey in the region resulted in the development of the so-called Triad composed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt. Pressure from the Triad towards Qatar, coupled with Turkey's own economic/political dilemmas, led to the development of a new alliance between the latter and the former. The alliance between the two is an odd yet efficient one. Both countries guarantee their continued involvement in geopolitics via their proxies — thus keeping them ever-relevant in the region, most of all in Libya.

The regional rivalry of the Triad vs Qatar and Turkey overshadows the conflict in Libya and the greater intricacies of a region that is rife with foreign interferences and competing domestic agendas. The loss of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Bashir in Sudan and the growing rise of the Triad’s influence with the new leadership in Khartoum has pushed Qatar and Turkey to double down in their battle of influence over Libya.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to support his “brothers” in Libya in their battle for Tripoli in a phone call with the GNA’s Fayez al-Sarraj. This support materialised in the form of a large shipment of weapons and armoured vehicles that arrived to Tripoli along with drones to counter the UAE’s air-support for the LNA. The apparent and regularly occurring violations of the UN Arms Embargo on Libya have become emblematic of the ever growing irrelevance of UNSC Resolutions plaguing this chapter in international affairs.

A shipment of Turkish-made BMC Kirpi mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles being unloaded in Tripoli’s main port in May 2019.

A shipment of Turkish-made BMC Kirpi mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles being unloaded in Tripoli’s main port in May 2019.

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