Friday April 19, 2019
BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
A tank arrives at the Turkish military base in Doha, Qatar. (photo credit: QATAR NEWS AGENCY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
In Libya Turkey and Qatar’s support for the Tripoli government in the eastern part of the country grew out of the Arab spring and the civil conflict in Libya.
Qatar and Turkey backed Sudan’s regime leader Omar al-Bashir for years, but now find themselves challenged after Bashir was pushed from power by popular protests and the military. According to Al-Arabiya, Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani was snubbed on a visit to Sudan on Wednesday. Turkey is outraged, with its TRT calling the overthrow of Bashir, who is accused of genocide, a “counter-revolution.”
Qatar and Turkey are close regional allies and have supported the Sudanese regime and the West Libya government in Tripoli. In both cases the countries have sided with hard-line religious groups, including Muslim Brotherhood influenced parties. Turkey had high hopes for its Sudan alliance, sending high-level military delegations there, leasing Suakin island and promising agricultural and other projects. It was part of Turkey’s desire to expand its influence in the Horn of Africa.
In Libya Turkey and Qatar’s support for the Tripoli government in the eastern part of the country grew out of the Arab spring and the civil conflict in Libya. Eventually that conflict pitted Khalifa Haftar, a general based in eastern Libya, against the western Libyan government. Haftar has backing from Egypt and the UAE, as well as Saudi Arabia. Russia has also met with Haftar. From the Egypt and UAE point of view the western Libyan government is infiltrated by extremists and Haftar promises military rule and stability. Haftar launched an offensive in early April to take Tripoli, potentially unifying Libya after eight years of war. Qatar called for an arms embargo of Haftar to be more strictly put in place, according to The Independent.
According to the report in The Independent, Haftar launched his offensive after the UAE noted “suspicious plane traffic from Turkey to western Libya.” When Turkey was in the middle of switching air traffic from one airport to another in Istanbul, Haftar moved. “As a military strategist, you want to take advantage of this kind of situation, even if it’s 10 hours,” an expert told the reporter. Although Haftar has to do the fighting on the ground, it appears that regional contests between Turkey and Qatar on one side and the UAE and Egypt on the other, overshadow the developments in Libya. Qatar, for instance, held talks with Germany’s local envoy about Libya in March.
Meanwhile Qatar has been having meeting with US officials at the State Department as part of a strategic dialogue group on April 16 where it discussed Sudan. Qatar also hosted Sudan’s Bashir in late January. Protesters have risen up in Sudan in the last months and the military finally stepped in to remove Bashir, who has been in power since 1993. The military has now arrested members of Bashir’s family for alleged corruption. Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for genocide in Darfur. However US allies such as Turkey and Qatar have worked closely with the war criminal over the years. Although Turkey’s state-run TRT calls the overthrow of Bashir a “counter revolution” that is against “grassroots movements,” in fact Bashir was pushed out amid a massive wave of grassroots protests.
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya says that even as Qatar is being shown the cold shoulder in Sudan, that the Transitional Military Council welcomed a Saudi-Emirate delegation on Tuesday.
The fate of Libya and Sudan are not decided yet. Both Qatar and Turkey have major interests in both countries. Both are also US allies and will want to leverage support in Washington to influence the outcome in these north African states. The UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have cemented their alliance in dealing with the Sudan and Libya crises. For Egypt this is of deep importance because these are neighbors. Now Cairo and Abu Dhabi could be on the verge of a historic role in both countries.