Saturday, March 19, 2011

Turkey's Libya dilemma

Turkey is dramatically careering away from the Anglo-French initiative on Libya. The growing divergence of opinion in recent days has apparently become a great divide. Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan has voiced support for an urgent ceasefire in Libya and refrain from any western military action. In reality, Turkey could be doing a curious balancing act, estimating that a role for mediation might arise at some point. Thus, Turkey supports a no-fly zone, but opposes "foreign intervention in our friend and brother Libya." Turkey also adds a caveat that its stance is evolving and is subject to the humanitarian considerations from time to time - a safety valve, of course. No signs, either, that Turkey intends to block a NATO operation in Libya, although Erdogan earlier questioned the alliance's locus standii. Zaman has a fine write-up on the nuances in the Turkish position. The present government is buffeted by many pressure - Ottoman legacy in North Africa, western intervention in yet another Muslim country, Arab League stance, huge economic interests in Libya (projects worth 15 billion dollars) and so on. More than anything else, Erdogan will be highly sensitive about the domestic opinion. Turkey is gearing up for parliamentary election. How will Turkish public react if western operations lead to heavy loss of "Muslim lives" in Libya?

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