Libya, another problem between Turkey and West

Libya, another problem between Turkey and West

For the international community Turkey’s democratic backpedaling lies behind the deterioration of relations between Ankara and the European Union.

European capitals believe the Turkish president has taken an authoritarian path and, as a result the weakening of democracy in Turkey, has made it impossible to continue the membership process.

In its latest statement last June, the EU has reiterated its position that due to the democratic deficit, especially in view of the deterioration of rule of law and the upholding of fundamental freedoms, membership talks will not resume.

Fair enough. Turkish officials might not object to democratic deficit especially due to measures taken after the coup attempt of 2016. The fact that the Justice Ministry is working on a reform package on the judiciary is a tacit acceptance of the democratic backpedaling.

Turkish officials might also understand up to a certain degree the double standards applied by the EU on democracy when it comes to the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. Egypt’s human rights record is not any better if not worse than that of Turkey, but Egypt is not a candidate to the EU while Turkey is.

In addition, as a candidate country Turkey is expected to pursue a foreign policy course in parallel with that of the EU. There as well the gap is widening between the two. But things are much more complicated when it comes to international politics.

There is no doubt that Turkey has been pursuing a more assertive foreign policy, where the use of hard power has been replacing the use of soft power. This is being represented by European capitals as the consequence of sliding into authoritarianism.

Ankara’s decision to deploy Turkish soldiers in Libya, which so far has been limited to sending advisors to support the U.N.-sponsored Government of National Accord (GNA), has been again presented as yet another move by an authoritarian leadership. But this presentation is highly problematic, as Turkey comes to the support of a U.N.-supported government.

The mess in Libya is aggravated by Western democracies, like France and autocratic regimes of Russia and the Arab countries. Who says it? Says the French press. The international press is as well full of stories about France’s double game in Libya. France has joined the Russians and the Egyptians as well as the Emirates in supporting General Khalifa Haftar who has been challenging the GNA.

This is due to a fundamental policy choice made by Western leaders after the Arab Spring: To support strong men who claim to be the ones curbing political Islam and therefore religious extremism.

But it is the oppressive authoritarian regimes like the one in Egypt that is at the gist of the rise of extremism. And when it comes to Libya, when his army is made of Saudi-backed hardline Salafists and mercenaries from other African countries, ready to sell themselves to the highest bidder, to what degree can you consider Haftar to be a secular warlord that would keep “Islamists” at bay and fight groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL. His troops are accused of committing crimes against humanity.

The good thing about being a democracy is that the French press has been critical of President Emmanuel Macron’s support to a renegade gangster like Haftar. So far, these criticisms however have not led to a policy change.

When it comes to Turkey, there is not much to question about its solidarity with the U.N.-sponsored government. But here what needs to be debated is the form of its support, and the perception that is being created around Ankara.