Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, has started a visit to Tunisia, his third to the North African state in three years and the second leg in a regional tour that has already taken him to Jordan. The same tour will take the Qatari ruler to Algeria on February 25. Economic, trade and investment relations will feature highly in talks between Sheikh Tamim and Tunisian President, Kais Saied. However, Libya will take center stage in talks between the two leaders.
Rescue Mission to Save Libya’s GNA
Sheikh Tamim is apparently on a mission to rescue Turkish ambitions in Libya, after Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, failed to convince Tunisia and Algeria to join in his drive for backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
Erdogan visited Tunisia on December 25 in order to convince its administration to back his efforts to prop up the GNA against the advance of the Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA keeps advancing towards Tripoli, receiving lavish support from a series of regional states. Erdogan has put his full weight behind the GNA, including by sending Syrian hirelings and military equipment. Turkish military support to the GNA comes in the light of a November 2019 security cooperation deal between the two sides.
The Strong Qatari-Turkish Alliance
Qatar and Turkey have been acting in sync for several years now for ideological, political and economic reasons. The leaderships of the two states share the same Islamist ideology and have been offering backing to Islamist militias across the region and in Africa for a long time now. They are doing this in Syria, in Libya and in Africa.
Ankara and Doha bank on these militias, especially ones affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, to increase their leverage in a region that teems with ideological conflicts. The two countries also share the same political ambition of gaining regional supremacy by undermining traditional regional powerhouses, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey’s Hopes of Doing Business With the GNA
Apart from the security cooperation deal, Turkey also signed a maritime delimitation deal with the GNA. The deal allows Turkey to explore natural gas off the Libyan coast. It brings Turkey on board of the natural gas bonanza evolving in the region, after its hopes were dashed because of its failure to reach understandings with other states in the region, including Egypt and Greek Cyprus.
Egypt has also tightened the noose around Turkey by establishing the Eastern Mediterranean Natural Gas Forum which excludes Turkey. Egypt also hammered out deals with regional states to import part of their natural gas production, process it at its facilities and then export it to Europe. This kills Turkish dreams of becoming an energy gateway into the same continent.
Diplomacy by Proxy
Sheikh Tamim probably has all these considerations in his mind as he visits Tunisia and later Algeria. He will be trying to sway the two nations away from their initial position of refusing to take sides in Libya or be embroiled in the Libyan quagmire. Qatari ambassador in Tunisia, Saad bin Nasser al-Humaidi, underscored the importance of Sheikh Tamim’s visit to Tunisia.
“The visit acquires its importance from its timing, given current political conditions in the region,” al-Humaidi said.
He added that current conditions in the region, in general, and in Libya, in particular, make it necessary for Qatar and Tunisia to make more consultations. Whether Sheikh Tamim will hear from the Tunisian president what Erdogan heard from him when he visited Tunis in late December remains to be seen.
Tamim will spend two days in Tunisia before he travels to neighboring Algeria to meet President, Abdel Madjid Tebboune. On February 22, Tebboune welcomed Sheikh Tamim’s expected visit to his country.
“Qatar is a sister country with which we share many positions,” he said.
Nevertheless, he was keen to say that his country would not take sides in Libya.
“Algeria will not be dragged into anything that does not serve either its own interests or the interests of the Libyan people,” the Algerian president said.