“The New Geopolitics of North Africa: Turkey and Libya”

On April 7, a panel titled “The new geopolitics of Turkey and Libya” was organized by Insight Turkey in Tripoli, Libya. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay and President Muhammad Yusuf Al-Magarif of the General National Congress of Libya delivered speeches at the panel in which ‘political and social transformation’ and ‘foreign policy and constitution making’ in Libya and Turkey were evaluated in two sessions.

Özhan “Interpreting change correctly and following constitutive politics”

Opening remarks delivered by SETA President Taha Özhan. Taha Özhan said that people talked about many negative scenarios for Libya. The first was the division of Libya after the fall of Gaddafi. However, Libya succeeded in forming a government. The region, Özhan said, is going through an irrevocable change and that, at this stage, one should interpret the change correctly and follow constitutive politics. Sunusi Buseykiri, President of the Libyan Research and Development Center, spoke after Özhan. Buseykiri said that the AK Party’s experience is very significant for Libya. He added that Libya needs a new political foundation and that it wants to benefit from Turkey’s experience in its era of reconstruction.

Atalay: “Turkey experienced a silent revolution in its democratic system”

Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, who spoke after Buseykiri, began his speech by praising the struggle of Libyans for freedom, justice and honor. Atalay said that Turkey followed the revolutionary process very closely and it was the only country that gave a clear stance in favor of the people during the revolutions. During the AK Party’s experience during the past 11 years, he said, Turkey experienced a silent revolution in its democratic system. In spite of the major problems the country was facing, Turkey took long-term strategic steps instead of seeking short-term solutions. Atalay highlighted how the AK Party takes the guidance of the people very seriously and that they “took the risks in this process by taking firm and brave steps”. Atalay added that social change should be administered very carefully and that Libya should study its strategy of change very well. Libya is luckier than Tunisia and Egypt in the sense that its economy is better. Atalay urged Libyan decision makers to follow an honest and sincere policy. Rulers, he said, should not be afraid of democracy. They should involve all segments of the society in governance. Atalay said that the AK Party’s relations with Libya are founded on friendship rather than on interest. Turkey wants to see Libya have its society’s support and they are ready to help Libya achieve this in any way.

Al-Magarif: “The biggest advantage the revolutions had was the presence of the AK Party in Turkey”

President Al-Magarif, who spoke after Deputy Prime Minister Atalay, began his speech by saying that comes from a generation in which the people and the ummah were being divided and in which cruel dictators forbade freedom of speech. Al-Magarif said that the biggest advantage that the revolutions had during an era in which the ummah was being silenced was the presence of the AK Party in Turkey at the time.


After the opening speeches, the first session of the panel titled “political and social transformation” took place. Four speakers from Libya and Turkey were present at the session and  Arif El Hoca, a political advisor to the Libyan prime minister, was the first speaker. In his speech titled “National security in a time of democratic transformation,” El Hoca said that national security should be perceived on a multidimensional level. He said that our conception of national security should involve not only military and police but also the establishment of the political security and stability of the state and the removal of threats to the interests of the state. El Hoca said that the most dangerous stage in a transition from dictatorship to constitutional state is the transition process. He added that constructing a state based on the outcomes of the crisis is a mistake. First, the crisis should be overcome. El Hoca said that armament was taking place in Libyan society because of the absence of security in Libya. They were trying to establish a national security system in order to establish a stable political system.

SETA Political Research Director Hatem Ete, who spoke after El Hoca, said that one could come to a conclusion about what should not take place in Libya by looking at the old system upon which Turkey was founded. The fact that Kaddafi’s Libya did not have an institutional political system with clearly defined actors is an advantage for the new Libya, he said. Turkey had a system that was insensitive to social demands and incapable of adapting to the social dynamics of ideology and demography. He emphasized that the AK party is still struggling with the old system and its actors. For Libya to avoid a similar struggle, he said, there shouldn’t be a structure contrasting the social dynamics.

SETA research assistant Galip Dalay, who spoke after Ete, said that the AK Party, which hosts politicians with centrist and center-right views, made democratization and economic development the center of its political discourse. In this period, the party delayed the demands of its own grassroots supporters in order not to scare the electorate. In the second term, Dalay said, the party struggled against the Turkish establishment’s political tutelage. In its third term, the AK Party focused on preparing the first civilian constitution and sought to overcome many of Turkey’s problems.

Salih Ubeyde, the last Libyan speaker, gave a presentation about the formation of political parties in Libya. During Gaddafi’s era, he said, even attempting to create a political party was considered treason against the nation. The formation of political parties revived after the revolution. It is important to decrease the ties of the tribes with today’s political parties, which he likened to houses without roofs. He added that any political party founded by tribes cannot address the general problems of Libya and would hinder the healthy formation of political parties in Libya.

The afternoon panel session, titled "Foreign Policy and Constitution Making," was moderated by SETA's Law and Human Rights director Yılmaz Ensaroglu. The first speaker, Hayri Ömer, said the Libyan revolution was a political upheaval rather than a fundamental transformation. Ömer stated that this upheaval would pave the way for the beginning of a social process which would lead to future political development. Pointing out that Libya would not face economic difficulties due its petrol, Ömer added that the country would overcome the political problems by looking at the countries such as Latin America and Morocco, which went through changes in their past.

After Ömer, SETA researcher Muhittin Ataman started his speech by touching upon Turkey's foreign policy in the Middle East and recent changes in the region. Ataman explained that a "policy of omission" in the region was followed by Turkey for a long time. He added that during the entire twentieth century, the Turkish Republic preferred to keep away from all the institutions which represented the Ottoman Empire and were represented by the Ottoman Empire itself. Ataman stated that Turkey’s quest for an axis of stability fulfilled an economy-based foreign policy was started by the AK Party. Ataman added that Turkey carried out a supra-secterian policy and undertook a mediator role during this period. Ataman drew attention to Turkey's emphasis on the beginning of democratic and reform process even before the Arab uprisings broke out. Ataman asserted that Turkey has a common civilizational, political, and economic interest with the countries of the region, which requires it to have a common regional policy.

Following Ataman, Salih Zahhaf, a Libyan partcipant, said that the new order in Libya had important regional and global impacts. Zahhaf stated that Western countries do not appreciate the formation of an Islamic state in Libya. He pointed to the absence of a middle-class in Libya as a critical defect. As a potential point of contention, this should be equalized in the constitution. Zahhaf put forward that there are not horizontal works or talks with the political parties in Libya. He also explained that the lack of being able to appeal to all parties and including all of them is a great problem. "In this regard, we continue to talk over the position of the religion and situation of minority groups such as the Amazigh and Berbers in the new constitution" he said.

The last speaker of the panel was Zühtü Arslan, a member of the Turkish Constitutional Court. Arslan argued it is not proper to say "Turkish constitutional model" but rather "the long experience of Turkey." He stated constitutions in Turkey came as an outcome of some extraordinary periods and therefore each constitution sought a way to solve a certain problem. Arslan emphasized the constitutional policy has a top-down character and thus it brings about formation of a system of political tutelage. He stated that the constitution should not fall behind social, political and economic changes. Touching upon its participatory, mediational, and reconciliatory nature, Arslan emphasized the necessity of a constitution which would represent democratic will that protects fundamental rights and liberties as well as providing coexistence for the social diversities.