By Alina Lehtinen
In a shift from its past opposition to military intervention in Libya, Turkey’s leaders announced this week that the country is willing to make a necessary contribution to ensure the safety of Libyan civilians.
“Our biggest desire is for this operation to be finished as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish TV on Monday (March 21st). “NATO should go in with the recognition and acknowledgement that Libya belongs to the Libyans, not for the distribution of its underground resources and wealth.”
Enforcement of a UN-declared no-fly zone began on March 19th, with a multinational coalition of forces conducting attacks against Muammar Gaddafi’s defence installations. While it has no plans to become involved in the operation, Ankara has rethought its policy towards the crisis, analysts say.
“If Turkey does not go along with the West [on the intervention], Turkey’s main institutional link with the West is going to be endangered,” Sabri Saryari of Sabanci University told SETimes.
“This has happened over and over again: Turkey not agreeing with the US and Turkey not agreeing with the EU. Maybe [the Turkish government] is thinking it is better to go along with this,” he said.
According to Daphne McCurdy from The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Ankara does not want to lose credibility by appearing too close to the status quo.
“If Turkey wants to continue to be a leader in the region, then it must cultivate relationships with the people, not hold on to its relationships with aging, repressive autocrats whose days appears to be numbered,” McCurdy said.
Although Turkey was among the first countries to demand Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak resign, its attitude towards the Gaddafi regime has been more restrained. Experts interviewed by SETimes say economic and political factors are shaping official policy.
“Turkey has 15 billion dollars worth of investment in Libya and it is plausible that this factor alone pushed the PM to object to intervention initially,” said Professor Nur Bilge Criss of Bilkent University.
Saryari agreed that economic factors likely played a role in Turkey’s policy towards Libya. However, he added, the idea of a Western coalition conducting military operations in a Muslim country has never been appealing to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has its roots in political Islam.
Despite its sometimes ambiguous stance, Turkey has proven its unique capabilities as the only Muslim member of NATO and a country able to carry out last-minute negotiations. It assisted in getting journalists working for The New York Times and The Guardian released after their capture by Libyan government forces.
“The Turkish government is not quite sure if Gaddafi will go away,” Saryari said. “That’s why they do not want to burn their bridges. Turkey does a lot of business in Libya. Maybe they are thinking that ‘we better not upset Gaddafi, otherwise he might not provide us the opportunities for business’. Turkey has been more in the mood of ‘let’s wait and see’ before we decide.”