Bashagha’s central bank ally pays the bill for Turkey’s support

The Governor of the Central Bank of Libya, al-Sadiq al-Kabir, dropped a bombshell, surprising everyone in Libya by signing a “vague” memo of understanding with the Turkish Central Bank, just a few days following the visit to Turkey by Fathi Bashagha, Minister of the Interior of the Government of National Accord, and Khaled al-Mishri, head of the Libyan State Council. Both men are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood organisation and made the trip to Turkey amid the growing crisis between Bashagha and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

The Central Bank of Turkey announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with its Libyan counterpart to lay the necessary foundations for cooperation between them on matters of concern to central banks.

A statement issued by the Turkish Central Bank stated that the MoU concluded on Monday with the Central Bank of Libya will contribute to establishing the necessary ground for developing cooperation between them on issues related to central banks.

The statement added that, within the framework of the said MoU, there are plans for launching activities that would develop economic relations and enhance financial cooperation between the two countries.

Most Libyans, however, were very wary of the announced agreement. Many of them considered it part of the price for Turkey’s support for Bashagha, who was being suspected in many reports these past few days of preparing to carry out a coup against Sarraj by taking advantage of the growing popular anger against the government. Poor services and deteriorating living conditions have prompted hundreds of Libyan youth last week to protest in Tripoli and other cities demanding an end to corruption and better services and living conditions.

Former Libyan ambassador to the UAE and leader of the Libyan Revival bloc, Aref al-Nayedh, said that “there were analyses linking this ambiguous agreement with the military coup that was launched by the suspended Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha against the government of Fayez al-Sarraj and the Presidential Council.”

“It would seem, according to these analyses, that the alliance between Kabir, Bashagha and the heads of finances in Misrata is working on recruiting the Turks to bully Sarraj, and this agreement is part of the price they must pay,” al-Nayedh told The Arab Weekly.

Sadiq al-Kabir’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood is well-known and he was dismissed from his post of Governor of the Central Bank by the Libyan Parliament in 2014. His alliance with Bashagha, however, is not recent. It goes back to a few months ago when he blocked the disbursement of salaries with the aim of achieving two goals. The first one was to save money to finance the war against the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and the second one was to cause a social crisis that would lead to a wave of popular protests, which Bashagha would then ride to seize power.

Observers have ruled out that Kabir had secured Sarraj’s approval before signing the agreement with the Turks, in light of the tension between the two men that has been going on for months now, giving rise to strong doubts about the legality of the move.

On the ground, there has been a cautious calm for days now in the capital, Tripoli, amid fears of clashes that could erupt at any moment between the Misrata militias loyal to Fathi Bashagha and the Tripoli militias affiliated with Fayez al-Sarraj.

On Friday evening, Sarraj issued an executive order suspending Bashagha from his position as Minister of the Interior and referring him to a judicial investigation for his responsibility in using excessive force against the protesters, a decision that observers considered a move to block the road to Bashagha’s attempts to exploit the anger of the street and foment a coup against the government.

A file picture of Libyan Central Bank Governor Sadiq al-Kabir. (REUTERS)
A file picture of Libyan Central Bank Governor Sadiq al-Kabir. (REUTERS)

On Saturday, Bashagha arrived in the capital, Tripoli, coming from Turkey, where he was on an official visit for days. Upon landing in Mitiga Airport in Libya, he was greeted by throngs of worked up militants loyal to him, in an apparent attempt to prevent his arrest. The incident was an indication of the important presence of the Misrata militias in the capital, Tripoli, and reinforced speculations about the likelihood of Bashagha’s success in his eventual coup against Sarraj, especially if he rallies the Syrian mercenaries to his camp.

In a letter addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Organisation on Monday, Nayedh denounced Bashagha’s hiding behind the militias, underscoring that “to enter the capital, Tripoli, in a convoy of more than 400 military vehicles and thousands of armed men, and then staying amid thousands of Turkish and Syrian mercenaries, does not denote the perpetrator’s respect for the rule of law. He must be condemned and rejected in the strongest terms.”

“Countries using a minister, who is supposed to be Libyan, to act on their behalf against his prime minister should be reprimanded,” Nayedh added in a clear reference to Turkey.

Libyan political sources confirmed to The Arab Weekly on Saturday that Turkey stands to be the primary beneficiary of the conflict between Sarraj and Bashagha, as the two rivals are locked in a competition to please Ankara. They pointed out that what is currently happening may be construed as Turkey punishing Sarraj for recently refusing, under pressure from France and Italy, to sign contracts and agreements for establishing Turkish naval bases in the ports of Misrata, Tripoli, Zuwara and Khums.

In the past few days, Italian media reported the removal of the Italian military hospital in Misrata to make way for a Turkish naval base in the city’s portand spoke at length of Rome losing its traditional influence in western Libya in favour of the Turks.

Turkey’s influence in Libya has increased since Sarraj signed two memoranda of understanding with Ankara in the areas of security cooperation and the demarcation of maritime zones, which opened the way for a direct Turkish military intervention in Libya that contributed to thwarting,in April of last year, the Libyan army’s campaign to take control Tripoli.