The visit of the Speaker of the Tobruk Parliament, Aguilah Saleh Issa, to Doha shows the change in the Qatari role in the context of a Libyan civil conflict marked by Turkish mediation

The abrupt change in Libyan-Qatari relations

PHOTO/SITIO WEB DE LA CÁMARA DE REPRESENTANTES DE LIBIA - The Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives, Aguilah Saleh (L), and her accompanying delegation met this weekend with the Emir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (R), at the Amiri Diwan, Doha, Qatar

Aguilah Saleh Issa, the president of the Libyan parliament in Tobruk - parallel to the authority of Abdul Hamid Dbeibé in Tripoli - travelled to the Qatari capital of Doha this weekend on his first official visit to the small Gulf country. The trip could mark a U-turn in Qatari-Libyan relations after years of accusations of "supporting terrorist groups [in the North African country]", as Saleh claimed during 2014 and 2015. 

"The Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives briefed the Emir of Qatar, [Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani], on the latest developments in the situation in Libya, while expressing his thanks and appreciation for the State of Qatar's continued support for the Libyan state and its people," a statement from the Amiri Diwan - the Qatari government's headquarters - said of the meeting between Saleh and Al Thani. This brings to the table the evident change in Libya's position. 

The delegation from the North African state, led by the parliamentary leader, landed in Qatar last Saturday after receiving an invitation from the Qatari foreign minister, Mohamed bin Adbulrahman, to "bring the views of the two sides closer together", Libyan legislator Abdel-Men'em Al-Arfy explained to Anadolu, the Turkish news agency. And, welcomed by Hassan bin Abdullah Al Ghanim, chairman of the Qatari Shura Council, the Libyan ambassador in Doha, Mohammed Mustafa Al Lafi, and other senior Qatari officials, Saleh and his entourage were led to the Amiri Diwan. 

"During the meeting, they discussed various aspects of development and strengthening cooperation between the two countries, and addressed the development of the current situation in Libya, in addition to a number of regional and international issues," the statement added. 

A history of strained relations 

"Qatar is the only country that is supporting terrorist groups in Libya," denounced Aguilah Saleh in 2014, a few years after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in the framework of the Arab Spring (2011). An event that was profoundly influenced by the role of a Qatar that was opening a new roadmap in its foreign and regional policy: the unprecedented use of political, military and economic support, both directly and indirectly. 

"All the Libyan people are convinced that Qatar is the state that supports terrorism. Its support for the revolution of 17 February [2011] was a good positioning, but in the end it turned out that it was not for the good of Libya, but for the good of the terrorists," he added, referring also to Qatari support for Marshal Khalifa Haftar and groups opposed to the Libyan parliament based in Tobruk, in the east of the country. "It is linked to the United States, and it does not want Libya to return to the state it was, as well as harbouring and supporting the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood. 


However, according to several political analysts consulted by Al Arab, Qatar's pragmatism in considering negotiations open to all parties in the Libyan conflict seems to be bringing it closer to the North African country. Qatar is an important country in the region as a gateway to the African continent and an oil producer - an OPEC member - whose importance has been reflected in the personal reception of Saleh by Emir Al Thani.

"Qatar is part of the Gulf Cooperation Council. We must reach an understanding with it and turn the page on past differences," said MP Abdel-Men'em Al-Arfy.

Qatar as a counterweight to Turkish mediation

In this sense, one of the reasons that could be driving Aguilah Saleh's diplomatic shift could be Turkey's - increasingly consolidated - influence on the Libyan chessboard. Recent weeks have witnessed Qatari contradictions to Ankara's proposals to put an end to the Libyan conflict, which has been going on for more than 11 years since the overthrow of dictator Gaddafi. 

Faced with the progressive international neglect of the North African country, Turkey has strengthened its position in the Libyan mediation process in order to, beyond halting the crisis - and according to the analyst from the IEEE (Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies) - extend its influence in the region, increase its importance on the African continent and limit Egypt's regional competition. Something that observers believe Saleh intends to prevent through Doha's entry into the mediation processes, embracing a national dialogue that includes all the parties involved, and that does not lean towards Turkish allies. 


Indeed, not only Abdul Hamid Dbeibé - of whom Turkey has been a staunch supporter - but also the unilaterally appointed head of government by the Tobruk parliament, Fathi Bashagha, close to Ankara during the first battle of Tripoli in 2019, and Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), have all maintained (or maintain) ties with Erdogan's government. 

Aguilah Saleh's visit to Doha comes shortly after Prime Minister and GNU leader Dbeibé's trip to the Qatari capital, where the Tripoli head of government and Amir al-Thani discussed 'support for international efforts' to call new elections in Libya.