A fevered debate has been sparked in Libya and Tunisia as the Turkish lira dropped to unprecedented levels after the US imposed sanctions on Turkey’s steel and aluminum over the detention of the American pastor Andrew Branson.
Activists in both countries have followed the currency’s collapse with close attention, amid contrasting views about the crisis. Some consider what has happened as a conspiracy against President Erdogan, while others see the situation as the result of reckless policies and mistakes in Ankara.
Enthusiasts who defend “Sultan” Erdogan argue that the US and other regional foes are targeting Turkey and have called for solidarity and support for the Turkish economy.
Other activists see the recent losses as the logical outcome of bad economic policies and escalating tensions between Ankara and other capitals, where Turkey was previously following a “zero enemies” policy outlined by former foreign affairs minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Some conservative activists close to the Muslim Brotherhood have urged people to buy Turkish lira in an attempt to help the Turkish President who has “generously” endorsed Islamists for years.
Media reports say some Libyan Islamists have transferred millions of dollars into Turkish lira in a bid to boost the currency. Fawzi Ammar, the general secretary of the Libyan centre for economic competition, said Turkey put pressure on financial bodies in Libya to transfer deposits in the Ziraat bank into Turkish lira.
Anti-corruption activists have urged the authorities to reveal the levels of deposits and called on them to take measures to protecting the funds. Mohamed Saleh Ellafi, a lawyer and human rights activist addressed a formal letter to the temporary Libyan government.
He said they should send a request to the UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salama to block all Libyan deposits in Turkish banks and freeze all Libyan assets.
Aref Ali Nayed, one of the candidates in Libya’s presidential elections, asserted that the country’s central bank chief, Essadik Lekbir, had colluded with some Muslim Brotherhood members and put billions of dollars in low-ranking Turkish banks, a risky move that jeopardises the savings of many Libyans.
Islamists in Libya are keen to support Erdogan as Turkey turned into a platform for the Muslim Brotherhood after 2011, and some Libyans transferred colossal amounts of money to Turkey after the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime.
WikiLeaks has revealed some aspects of ties between Ankara and its conservative allies. There was a lot of correspondence during the unrest between the Turkish government and the former chief of Tripoli’s military council Ali Belhaj.
In one of the letters, Belhaj said he would like to transfer some money found in Gaddafi’s residence for investment in Turkey. He offered to transfer it to the account of a member of Turkey’s government, promising a commission of 25 percent.
He specified that he was intending to send $75 million so $15 million could go to the Turkish politician in return for facilitating the transfer. The letter signed by Belhaj asserted that a local Libyan firm could help fulfil this.
Back in 2016, Belhaj moved his TV channel “Annabaa” to Turkey where other Libyan channels are broadcasting, as Ankara tries to benefit from Libya’s chaos and strengthen its economic and strategic presence.
In January 2013, the Turkish news website “Hurriyet” wrote that Greek authorities had found Turkish weapons in a ship heading to Libya that had stopped in Greece due to bad weather.
In 2014, Turkish media reported that 20,000 Kalashnikovs (AK-47) were found in a ship heading from Ukraine to Libya, while the Turkish pilot pretended he was going to a Turkish port. However, Libyan authorities revealed that it was heading to Libya.
The Islamist support for Turkey’s president is seen in an unfavourable light by many activists and politicians in Tunisia and Libya; they ask how people can ignore the troubles of their own economy and support a foreign one for purely ideological reasons.
In December 2017, Tunisia froze its free trade agreement with Turkey for five years as the Tunisian deficit increased. Erdogan, who visited Tunisia later, was unable to persuade Tunisian officials to resume the deal.
Despite Turkish influence, Ankara’s ambitions face many challenges in Tunisia and Libya as secular activists are suspicious of Turkey’s presence while the progress of the Libyan National Army has largely minimised the “Sultan”’s gains.