Erdoğan’s man making sales pitches in Cairo and Paris

Since it was revealed that Fayez al-Sarraj, who is the head of the Presidential Council of Libya and who had reluctantly signed critical agreements with Turkey, had thrown in the towel, Bashagha has become more important in terms of Ankara’s plans for Libya. His relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and the fact he was backed by Turkey have helped Bashagha hold his current position.

Attempts to find a political solution in Libya under the auspices of the UN have reached a critical point. The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunisia, with the participation of warring parties, has created a scheme of the authorized bodies that will manage the transition period. With the three-person Presidential Council and one prime minister, the process of the unification of the disintegrated state bodies will be managed, and preparations will be made for elections scheduled for December 24, 2021. The Presidential Council will consist of a president and two vice presidents representing the regions of Tripoli, Cyrenaica and Fezzan.   

When it came time to appoint people to these seats, the selection was postponed to the second round of talks. The market was thus opened up to all kinds of political bargains.  

Libyan researcher Mohammed El-Jareh caused a commotion when he claimed that bribes were offered to forum members. The researcher said 200,000 dollars’ worth of bribes were offered to support a certain candidate. Upon this news, 60 of the 75 forum members called on UN Representative Stephanie Williams to investigate the accusations. 

Russia and Egypt made Khalifa Haftar, who disappointed his supporters, take a step back. Instead of Haftar, Aguila Saleh Issa, the president of the Libyan House of Representatives, was put forward to fill the seat. He was expected to become the chairman of the Presidential Council. On the other hand, Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, who is known for his closeness with Turkey, was expected to become the prime minister. However, both of them are disliked by many in the forum. For this reason, the election process is dragging on. 

Since it was revealed that Fayez al-Sarraj, who is the head of the Presidential Council of Libya and who had reluctantly signed critical agreements with Turkey, had thrown in the towel, Bashagha has become more important in terms of Ankara’s plans for Libya. His relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and the fact he was backed by Turkey have helped Bashagha hold his current position. With his determined, ambitious and pragmatic nature, Bashagha is also seen by some European countries as the man capable of putting Libya back on track to become a state again. However, his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey may have adverse consequences for the future in terms of both domestic and international actors.   

The fact that he is Ankara’s man may be a reason to veto Bashagha for Paris and Cairo, the supporters of eastern powers, the United Arab Emirates, the expert of secret tricks, and perhaps for Moscow as well. However, Bashagha is capable of making maneuvers far beyond his jurisdiction. He acts like a president. He attempts to conduct cross-relations. To increase his chances regarding the prime ministry position, he has made unusual contacts. He tried to break the ice by creating contacts in capitals hostile to Turkey. These actions may or may not be coordinated with Turkey; we do not know yet. My Libyan friends are sure that, even though he relies on Turkey, Bashagha has taken pragmatic steps somewhat according to his own agenda.       

Bashagha went to Cairo at the beginning of November and held a series of meetings. In order to guarantee Egypt’s support, he has expressed goals of re-establishing relations, developing a partnership in the fight against terrorism and disbanding the militia forces in Tripoli. These militias supporting the Government of National Accord are the most serious test of the political process. Bashagha came back on a positive note. We do not know what he said on the issues that constitute Cairo’s red lines, such as agreements on maritime zones and military partnerships, or allocating a military base to Turkey. 

High off his progress with Cairo, Bashagha flew to Paris last week; this caused everyone’s eyes to widen.  

Bashagha was welcomed in Paris cautiously but as a valuable politician and also as a good customer. He met with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Defense Minister Florence Parly. That was indeed a good “toast” under the shadow of the Turkish-French showdown. It was reciprocal. Moreover, Bashagha signed a memorandum of understanding regarding security technologies with the French technology firm Idemia Group. He shook hands with Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters, for the purchase of 10 helicopters. The deal is for the sale of six H-135 and four H-145 helicopters. The sale was promoted under the idea that “the helicopters will be used to fight organized crime and terrorism.” Airbus will also conduct training courses for Libyan engineers, technicians and flight teams.

Bashagha also met the Thales Group. He said they discussed the possibilities to cooperate regarding reducing crime, improving the capabilities of the Interior Ministry and protecting investments.  

Meanwhile, it was also reported that Total held talks with the Libyan Oil Company about expanding its work. It was said that France would provide technical and financial support of an undisclosed nature.

It is a handshake with Paris that gives the message that, “through me, you can witness the results of your military-political investments in Haftar.”  A while ago, Bashagha had human trafficker Abdurrahman Milad, codenamed “Bica,” apprehended, which gave Paris the message that he could be a good partner. The French Embassy kindly responded to this offering. 

This is the channel in which Bashagha is working while seeking the support of the West: establishing security and curbing out-of-control militias. However, this control has two meanings: it may mean the transformation of Islamic militias into official forces; the number of people who find this to be dangerous is huge. It may also mean cracking down on radical Islamic groups and the gang-like militias to protect their profits, but these groups are ready to fight. Many among this category of militias are nursing grudges against Bashagha. However, this “security person” is exactly what Europe is seeking at the moment, as they are fed up with the influx of refugees and the movement of terrorists. I guess people in Paris are very sorry right now and are wishing that Bashagha had had no ties with Turkey. Apparently, the French are hoping to regain the influence they lost in Libya by hosting someone at the highest level possible — a person who has demonstrated his anti-France stance during the siege of Tripoli. The person who has been waiting for this welcome since March should have nothing else to say besides, “Look, I am not Turkey’s man.”     

By the way, what are the main supporters of the Tripoli wing, Turkey and Qatar, doing? According to the opposition front, they are trying to sabotage the political process that has come a long way in Tunisia. The ceasefire agreement signed in Geneva on October 23 specified the withdrawal of foreign militia forces and fighters and the departure of military trainers based in Libya within the framework of the agreement with the government. Turkey did not withdraw these forces. While a political solution was sought in Tunisia, as a part of the on-going activities at the Omer Al-Mukhtar Training Center in Tajura, the first graduation ceremony was held with the accompaniment of Quran recitations and the playing of national anthems, as to declare to the world “We are here; we have not left; we will not leave.” Qatar signed a military agreement with the Government of National Accord, which is preparing to leave. Russia and the UAE continue to support the Haftar side. 

UN representative Williams said even though she was hopeful about the negotiation process, she was concerned that all sides may be preparing to break the ceasefire. According to Williams, arms transportation is continuing for both sides, tactical buildup is being conducted and tension has been increasing between the armed groups in Tripoli. 

Thanks to NATO, Libya was destroyed in a couple of months and handed over to terrorism, but it is taking years to even come a couple of steps closer to peace. Unfortunately, the future of the country is still dark due to the “friends of Libya.”