In early October, Turkey and the outgoing government in Tripoli, led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, signed an agreement allowing Ankara to explore energy resources in the Mediterranean. According to general opinion in the Arab press and among political scientists, this is not only a blatant violation of international maritime law. It is also confirmation that neither side has any intention or desire to support the international efforts led by UN to restore stability in Libya. The only way to do so is through parliamentary and presidential elections that lead to a legitimate, stable government capable of preserving the unity and territorial integrity of the country and respecting international law.
It is worth recalling that the Dbeibah Government of National Unity (GNU) was approved by the UN-monitored Libyan Political Dialog Forum (LPDF) in February 2021 to carry out one main task during a short transition period: holding presidential and parliamentary elections on December 24, 2021. But that was not the only commitment Dbeibah made when he took office as interim prime minister. Along with Presidential Council Chairman Mohamed Al-Menfi, he pledged not to run in those elections.
Dbeibah failed on both counts. No elections were held on December 24, and he reneged on the commitment he made to UN and the international community not to run for president. Since taking office as prime minister, he has spared no effort, as reported by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, to misuse public funds in an effort to build a powerful base of supporters. They are the ones he believes will support him in the upcoming elections in a very divided and fractured political scene in western Libya, dominated by militias and extremist Islamist groups backed by Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood (banned in the Russian Federation). When Dbeibah’s term expired at the end of 2021, the only legitimate elected body, the parliament in Tobruk, appointed former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha as interim prime minister in February of this year. Not surprisingly, with Ankara’s military support, Dbeibah twice ordered the use of military force to prevent Bashagha from entering Tripoli and assuming his key post. It should be recalled that Bashagha is not new to western Libya, he originally comes from Misrata, but he decided not to bring his forces to the capital in order to avoid bloodshed.
Meanwhile, Dbeibah declared that his term would officially end on June 22, 18 months after the agreement backed by UN, and refused to recognize the Libyan parliament’s decision to appoint Bashagha. That deadline has also passed, and since then Dbeibah has repeated the far-fetched argument that he will only hand over his post to an elected government. Given the many difficulties standing in the way of holding a presidential election, both political and legal, Dbeibah’s message was that he would further deepen the divisions among Libyans and remain in office indefinitely. But the military support that Turkey provided to the Dbeibah government clearly came with all kinds of strings attached. As the saying goes, “free cheese only comes in a mousetrap,” and that is why he is now in a Turkish trap.
Even before UN could negotiate an agreement that led to the formation of the Dbeibah government in February 2021, Ankara signed a controversial maritime border agreement with former Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in 2019 that granted Turkey access to the Greek economic zone in the Mediterranean Sea for oil and gas exploration. The agreement exacerbated existing tensions between Turkey and Greece, which believes such energy deals encroach on Greek waters.
Neither the Al-Sarraj government nor the Dbeibah government had the authority or mandate to enter into international agreements or memoranda of understanding with Turkey. Indeed, in the view of many Arab leaders, Ankara is violating international law.
The current actions of Libya and Turkey were described by the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram as a new and latest “provocation” by the two states and must be firmly rejected by the United Nations and all countries involved in the situation in Libya. Following talks between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, both urged UN Secretary-General António Guterres to “take a firm stand on the illegitimacy of the outgoing Libyan government.”
Other Libyan political forces and major countries around the world also condemned the recent agreements signed by Ankara and the Dbeibah government. The European Union said that the energy agreements signed in this context violate the sovereign rights of third countries and do not comply with the maritime law of UN. Greek Foreign Minister Dendias accused Turkey of trying to “exploit the turbulent situation in Libya to further destabilize the Mediterranean and establish regional hegemony.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is actively trying to capitalize on the current global chaos following the start of the war in Ukraine unleashed by the U.S. and neo-Nazis in order to profit from the growing global demand for oil and gas production.
At their joint press conference, Shukri and Dendias reaffirmed their commitment to the Exclusive Economic Zone Agreement signed by the two countries in 2020, as well as their determination and pledge to protect the sovereign rights of Egypt and Greece as stipulated in the convention. They also reiterated their support for efforts to pave the way for Libyan presidential and parliamentary elections by helping Libyan parties reach an agreement on the necessary steps to hold a vote.
But in any case, a dangerous conflict is brewing in the Mediterranean that could explode at any time. It should be taken into account that Turkey has staked a lot on the Libyan card, and the supply of cheap oil from this African country could to some extent alleviate Ankara’s difficult economic situation and provide strength to the Erdogan regime. At the same time, given the volatility of the Libyan conflict, a new gross interference of the EU and NATO in the internal affairs of the Libyan people is possible. The European press is currently writing a lot about the prospect of establishing massive oil supplies from Algeria and Libya. But as the facts show, Algeria is by no means willing to supply the “black gold” and gas at the purchase prices unjustifiably set by Europe.
That leaves Libya, but how Turkey and Europe will divide up its oil remains to be seen by the world.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”