By Arab News
Probably no country has agonized over events in Libya as much as Turkey. Although a NATO member, Ankara was initially critical of the UN-sanctioned intervention by NATO warplanes — much to the anger of the opposition fighters at the time. On the other hand, it nevertheless sent six warships to help enforce the UN trade embargo of the Libyan regime and was opened-handed and generous in sending ferries to evacuate foreign nationals caught in Libya during the opening days of the conflict.
Now the government of Tayyip Recep Erdogan has come down firmly on the side of the opposition, with the visit of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Benghazi, who pledged $200 million in aid to the Transitional National Council (TNC).
Cynics might argue that with the opposition continuing to strengthen while Col. Qaddafi looks increasingly beleaguered, the Turks are acting purely out of self-interest. Certainly Libya is a major market in which Turkey’s businessmen have invested billions, not least in construction and white goods. Moreover, the opposition had made it clear that while all existing foreign contracts would be honored as and when Qaddafi was finally overthrown, new contracts would only go to countries that had supported the uprising. In recent days this has morphed into a warning that any overseas deals found to have involved corruption would certainly be abandoned.
Clearly for Turkey, as well as those other countries highly critical of military intervention such as China, Russia and India, getting its Libya policy right has been vital. There is everything to lose if the opposition wins — which they almost certainly will. But while Russia and China cannot quite bring themselves to ditch Qaddafi although have made contact with the TNC, Turkey has accepted the inevitability of his demise and accepted that any attempt to find a middle path will only antagonize the opposition.
In this, Ankara has undoubtedly been swayed by the changing circumstances, not least the issue of international arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court for Qaddafi, his son Seif and his intelligence chief. It has not however actually broken off diplomatic relations with the increasingly isolated government in Tripoli. The Turkish ambassador was withdrawn for security reasons in May and has since been reassigned, but Ankara is still in a position to play a mediating role if necessary.
Whether the Turkish move toward the TNC will lead to a similar change of tack by the Russians, Chinese and Indians remains to be seen.
Turkey’s change of heart will very probably give a real boost to the opposition fighters, not simply because yet another country has given them their backing. For many Libyans, Turkey, with its moderate Islamic government, strong economy, close European relations and re-strengthened ties with the Arab world, is the sort of country they would like to see Libya to become. For Turkey, a Libya freed from four decades of dictatorship represents an opportunity for major new investments and strong bilateral relations in a country which still has approaching five percent of world’s proven oil reserves.