Turkey’s economic growth over the last decade is an excellent example for Libya and other Muslim countries in the region to follow and replicate, Libya’s ambassador to Turkey Abdurrazag Mukhtar said.
“Turkey will have a big role in Libya’s reconstruction period. Libya will need to spend around $ 400 billion to rebuild infrastructure in all areas including health, education, roads and airports in the coming decade and Turkey’s cooperation will be of great help,” the ambassador maintained, during an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman last week.
Libya, a North African country with a predominantly Sunni Muslim population, was Turkey’s seventh largest trading partner in Africa in 2011. Turkey’s main exports to Libya are food and industrial products, including textile, iron, steel and chemicals, while petroleum and petroleum-based products make up almost 100 percent of Turkish imports from the country. The trade volume doubled during the last decade, but there has been a significant decrease due to the internal conflict in Libya in 2011.
Turkish companies were engaged in big construction projects worth $15 billion in Libya, including the building of hospitals, five-star hotels and shopping malls. However, they evacuated their workers due to the chaos the country plunged into in 2011, leaving the projects unfinished.
After the evacuation, Turkish companies said they failed to receive $1.4 billion in total for the projects they had completed prior to the problems in the North African country. Unpaid money aside, Turkish companies left $100 million in deposits in Libyan banks, while they also suffered losses to their construction equipment during clashes and lootings. A large majority of the Turkish construction projects are expected to resume in the war-torn country.
This issue has led to debates on compensation for the losses Turkish businesspeople faced during the new period in Libya under the National Transitional Council (NTC).
NTC is an unelected body set up as an interim government that has international recognition. The NTC is taking care of the day-to-day running of services in the country as well as trying to get the economy back on its feet and reshape government ministries, courts and other institutions hollowed out under deceased Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
Turkish construction market representatives as well as the Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan have been conducting separate talks with Libyan officials in regards to the repayment of debts as well as plans to resume work.
“Under the leadership of Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the Chairman of the ruling NTC, the Libyan government made a statement that it will respect all agreements from the Gaddafi era, as long as they are legal, in accordance with international standards and having no involvement of corruption,” Mukhtar said.
A committee to audit the economic agreements
The ambassador indicated that Turkish and Libyan authorities have agreed to establish a committee to audit the economic agreements of Turkish businesspeople, during a visit by Çağlayan to Libya. “We look forward to seeing all Turkish contractors come back and start working [in Libya]. Some part of our budget will go to paying our dues, as long as they are legitimate,” Mukhtar remarked. Although there has been a downward trend in trade and investment relations between the countries, Mukhtar said that the economic relations are very promising with Turkey in the post-Gaddafi period. “Libya has outstanding potential to rise again to the economic situation of the pre-revolution period,” he said.
Mukhtar has singled out his country’s experiences in the reconstruction period, in a region now renowned for countries that rose against their dictators, including Tunis and Egypt. “Libya probably has the best potential of any other country in the post-revolution period, because it has the economic wealth to resolve its problems quickly,” he said.
Libya is an important petroleum-exporting country and has the longest Mediterranean beaches of 2000 kilometers, which would bring an important interest in tourism revenues.
One of the leading problems in Libya is the ongoing security situation following the internal war. The armed militias drove Gaddafi from power with the help of a NATO military intervention led by France and the UK, between March and Oct. of 2011. However, those armed groups could not be disbanded and are now holding an important degree of power, blocking the restoration of stability in Libya in the post-Gaddafi era. The NTC has struggled to incorporate the militias into the military and police, seeking Turkish support also on that matter. Turkey has started negotiations with Libya to begin training the country’s police force on January of 2013.
Turkey was also one of the first countries to recognize the NTC as the sole representative of the Libyan people, after NTC forces entered Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli in late August 2012 and stormed the symbol of his more than 40-year reign. Turkey has also provided Libyan people with humanitarian assistance, including medical equipment and food as well as financial assistance totaling $200 million since the beginning of the uprising in February 2011. Mukhtar expressed gratitude to Turkish officials for extending support to Libyan people during their difficult time, noting that around 20,000 Libyan patients received free treatment in Turkey during the conflict. “Once we ousted Gaddafi, we started to take care of our own citizens in private and university hospitals in Turkey,” he said.
The ambassador confirmed claims appearing in the media that Libyan patients are complaining over the high prices charged by some private hospitals in Turkey and said that auditing operations in order to prevent such problems is ongoing. The ambassador also thanked Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for quickly becoming involved in the situation and holding responsibility for the troubles of Libyan citizens.
During a meeting with NTC Prime Minister Abdel-Rahim al-Keeb in İstanbul in February, Erdoğan said he deplored such actions made by Turkish private hospitals and said such an attitude is “breaking with the values of the Turkish nation” and he guaranteed that these institutions will be called into question as soon as possible.
Mukthtar also lauded the efforts of the international community under the UN initiative supporting a free election in their country, which will enable Libyan citizens to write their own constitution. The scheduled date for the free Libyan elections is the end of June.
The ambassador played down federalist tendencies surfacing from different parts of Libya, in challenges to the interim rule of NTC.
“I don’t think that Libya will be divided, Libya will be one country. People and media have made minor problems, big in Libya. Libyan people want everything to happen today and they don’t want to wait [to see the NTC reforms come into effect],” Mukhtar maintained.
One of the scenarios political observers forecasted for a post-Gadaffi Libya is partition due to a shaky administrative system, which was not fully established during the history of the country, and the likelihood of tribal or religious polarization. Since 1951, Libya’s administrative divisions have changed eight times. Since 2007, Libya has had 27 administrative districts. But the political differences between the three historical provinces of Tripolitania in the west, Fezzan in the south and Cyrenaica in the east still hold sway in Libya. For example, Cyrenaica gave full support to the Libyan rebels, while Tripolitania was not free of Gaddafi supporters.
Neither is Libya free of developments that serve as a reminder of such possibilities.
Earlier in March, civic leaders in Libya’s eastern Cyrenaica province, home to most of the country’s oil, declared the creation of a council to administer the province’s affairs. The declaration does not carry official force but it puts the province -- unhappy for many years at what it regards as neglect by rulers in Tripoli -- on course for a confrontation with NTC, Reuters reported.
The country has banned political parties from the upcoming elections in June based on tribal, ethnic or religious lines in order to overcome the possibility of polarization, NTC spokesman Mohammed al-Harizy said on Thursday.
There is also rivalry over tribal lines, especially between Eastern and Western regions. In June 2011, armed clashes between the villagers of al-Zintan and al-Rayyaniya showed the potential severity of violent polarization, Omar Ashour stated in an article published by Today’s Zaman in July.
Libya to become Turkey’s alternative for Iranian oil
Libya is a petroleum exporting country with the 10th largest proven oil reserves in the world. Turkey’s petroleum trade with Libya is likely to become more significant in the near future due to difficult relations with Turkey and other trade partners. Almost one third of Turkey’s oil is purchased from Iran, a leading actor in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). However, US-led sanctions which would ban international companies in the US cooperating with Iranian companies -- as a penalty to Iran for continuing its nuclear program, which is allegedly working towards producing a nuclear bomb -- Turkey made diplomatic efforts to source petroleum from elsewhere.
Turkey signed an agreement with Libya in April, which would see Libya supplying Turkey with 1 million barrels of crude oil per month. “The authorities are willing to increase that amount in the future,” Mukthar indicated.
Political claims have surfaced that Turkish plans to decrease its oil-dependence on Iran due to international pressure may place strain on the Turkey’s natural gas supplies from Iran. Mukthar claimed that Libya has not yet reached the capacity to export large amounts of natural gas due to technical problems, but it sees such an energy partnership with Turkey as promising. “Increasing cooperation over the natural gas trade with Turkey would also be very important for Libya to be able to sell its natural gas to Europe via Turkey,” the ambassador said.
Furthermore, Mukhtar said that Libya is very content regarding the normalization of relations in other fields since the civil war in 2011, such as transportation. Turkey’s national flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) recently increased the number of flights to Libya to 37. It also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Afriqiyah Airways for better cooperation.
An outside intervention as in Libya difficult scenario for Syria
Ambassador Mukhtar has refuted claims that Syria will experience a similar fate as Libya, which managed to oust a 42-year dictatorship led by Moammar Gaddafi, and stated that an outside military intervention in Syria, as seen in Libya, is not very likely. “Syria is in a very difficult situation. A military intervention would be quite difficult; the country is just between Iran and Israel. And Russia would also not agree to such an intervention,” Mukhtar claimed.
Political analysts say that a military intervention in Syria may give way to a full-fledged war in the region, considering Iran and Russia would back the Syrian regime. It is also said that Israel’s security should be taken into consideration in such a scenario, which would aggravate the security situation in the country and lead to a cross-border threat from Syria to Israel. Claiming that Libya has a harmonious population free of serious differences, being predominantly Sunni, one of the major issues in the Syrian situation that may obstruct the toppling of the brutal regime would be the serious internal divisions within the Syrian opposition. The ambassador explained that it is very difficult for the Syrian opposition to create a strong bloc against Syrian regime due to their dissimilarities.
“Syria has big diversity within its own nation; you have Alawite, you have Shiite, you have Christian. Libya does not have this, Libya has only one kind of nationality, which is why we are lucky,” Mukhtar asserted.