Libya is moving towards further fragmentation. There are several rival forces competing in the country. Two of them are relatively more important: One of these is the Tripoli-based government. It is supported by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement and backed by a coalition called the Libya Dawn, which is composed of the Libyan Shield, Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room and the Tripoli Brigade. This government is supported by Turkey, Qatar and Sudan.
The second is the Tobruk-based government. Its main component is the council of deputies elected in 2014. It enjoys a much wider international recognition under the title of “The Libyan Government.”
Militarily, it is supported by Operation Dignity, commanded by General Khalifa Belqasim Hafter (also pronounced Hifter, Heftar and Hefter).
The conflict between the two competing governments could be summarized as follows:
A parliament called the General National Congress was elected on July 7, 2012, for a period of 18 months, to replace the National Transitional Council that was formed during the Libyan civil war. The exclusive task of this parliament was to draft a new constitution that was going to be submitted to a constituent assembly.
The elections for the constituent assembly were held on June 25, 2014, and the Islamist parties suffered a landslide defeat by getting only 30 out of 200 seats of this assembly. Violence broke out in various provinces. The secularists and liberals put the blame for the violence on the Islamists. Politicians who were not re-elected in the June 25 elections continued to hold meetings under the name of the “New General National Council.” This group is dominated by members of the Justice and Construction Party, the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The majority of the newly elected members decided to hold their meetings in Tobruk on the grounds that Tripoli has ceased to be a safe place for them. Muslim Brotherhood-linked MPs did not join the Tobruk-based parliament.
The Libyan constitutional court annulled the elections of June 25 upon the request of some MPs, who claimed that the elected parliament had lost its legitimacy because it was not sitting in the capital Tripoli and that it had exceeded its competence by calling for foreign military assistance to fight against the Libyan militia. The international community is not convinced that such arguments could justify the annulment.
The Tobruk-based parliament rejected the verdict claiming that “it was taken under the threat of arms.”
Against this ambiguous background, Turkey opted to support the Tripoli government, because it had heavily invested in the success of this government since the early stages of the Libyan crisis. Like-mindedness of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey with the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya is another factor that may have contributed to the adoption of this decision.
This policy is likely to cause serious difficulties for the remaining Turkish companies in the regions controlled by the Tobruk-based government. On May 11, a Turkish cargo ship was shelled by the Libyan Air Force because it was thought that the ship must be carrying ammunition to the extremist militants operating in Derna.
There is an expectation that Saudi Arabia will initiate a process of reconciliation comparable to the Taif Agreement brokered in 1989 in order to put an end to the Lebanese civil war. Such an initiative may contribute to the stabilization of Libya, but it cannot be predicted whether Saudi Arabia will take such an initiative while the Yemeni crisis consumes most of its energy.
There is a new development in Libya that may cause more headaches for Turkey: The Obama administration seems to be moving to a policy of providing military support to General Hafter, the commander of the Tobruk-based government’s army, if the reconciliation efforts of Bernardino Leon, the special representative for Libya of the UN secretary-general, do not reach fruition by the deadline of June 17. In case this scenario materializes, the power balance in Libya will tilt against the conservatives backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
If this happens, Turkey may become further isolated in the Middle East.