23 August 2011

Libya: Jousting for Presence

Right now everyone is talking about who among the nameless rebel leaders will emerge as the unifying leader. Speculations about tribal loyalties and how rebel units identify themselves on ethnic or regional bases are all over the Internet.

I don't know enough about the ethnic map of Libya to speculate (and I doubt that the great majority of the "experts" know enough to venture a guess). Besides, I am more curious about the jousting of foreign powers for presence in Libya.

When I first commented on Libya, I said that President Sarkozy was a significant player, as by pushing for an intervention in Libya he was trying to achieve several domestic and international goals. I also suggested that he was making a mistake by trying to exclude Turkey from the proceedings.

Well, it turns out that the rivalry continues. I knew that Turkey, who turned its back to signed contracts worth several tens of billions of dollars in Qaddafi's Libya, was going to try to position itself as a friendly Muslim ally with the new rebel government. Sarkozy had also the same thing in mind, except that he also has to fight off Italy and the UK for oil licences and reconstruction funds. According to the Turkish press (Le Monde online does not have this yet), French minister of foreign affairs Alain Juppé will be holding a meeting with the transitional rebel government in Paris next week.

Well, the Turkish minister of Foreign Affairs, Davutoglu, the architect of the neo-Ottoman policy and "zero problem with neighbors" approach, is apparently in Benghazi as you read this. He will be the first minister of foreign affairs to visit the "new Libya."

Moreover, he invited [link in Turkish] the rebel leaders to Istanbul tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday for official consultations. If they accept, Sarkozy summit may not be as relevant as he hoped for.

Also and perhaps very significantly, he said before his departure that what took place in Libya should be a lesson to all regional leaders. If I were the Syrian president I would take that seriously.

Finally, BBC reports that "Turkey has announced it is giving $300m (£181m) to the NTC, including funds to form the new government."

I do not need to underline the significance of that announcement at this moment in time.

The newspaper Zaman (to which I linked above) is close to the current administration. Their headline was "Turkey-France Competition is on, but Round One Belongs to Ankara."

So it is.

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