Turkey’s historically strong relationship with Lebanon has been overshadowed by geopolitics and regional rivalries, namely the Iranian-Saudi battle for influence in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Ankara did openings in Lebanon in the form of aid and political support, and this is felt especially in areas with a Sunni majority.
Tripoli is the poorest region in Lebanon. Some reports show it as the poorest city in the Mediterranean, the central government neglecting its responsibilities to look after the inhabitants of the city. However, this aid was conditional. After the recent diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Beirut and told top Lebanese officials that Ankara was ready to start a dialogue between the two nations, but also to exert its own influence with the Lebanese people. in order to gain influence over Lebanon’s sectarian political system.
Across Tripoli, flags of the Republic of Turkey and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be seen on posters that to say, “May God protect the chief [Erdogan] of the Arab and Islamic nation. Residents of the predominantly Sunni city feel abandoned by Riyadh and view the Turkish leader as their defender. Omar Mrad, a forty-one year old Tripolitan who was one of the many people who put up the posters in the city, said he personally does not feel represented by Saudi Arabia. In 2013, Beirut leased two electric barges from a Turkish company, Karpowership, which were to be placed off the country’s coast, supplying nearly a quarter of Lebanon’s energy demand. Although it has temporarily halted operations due to an expiration date Contract and late payment, the company resumed the supply of electricity out of “Good will. ”
Ankara has also developed links with Palestinian refugees and provided emergency aid in the form of food, health care and education through various NGO. These resources helped avert famine but also drew criticism from abroad.
Al-Arabiya, a Saudi state organization, accused Ankara of facilitating the flow of weapons through local NGOs to sympathetic groups in the city. A Lebanese intelligence officer spoke to Arabiya English and expressed concern over a Lebanese army surveillance operation in Tripoli. Those accusations were made over a year ago and have not been independently verified. The Turkish government has not commented on these allegations. However, if this is true, it would simply make Ankara another actor contributing to the sectarian conflict in Lebanon and the misery of the Lebanese people. However, more recently Turkey has made efforts to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and wants to use its influence to restore relations between Lebanon and its former Gulf allies.
When Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu met his Lebanese counterpart, Abdallah Bou Habib, they discussed ways to strengthen their bilateral relations by developing economic sectors such as tourism, energy and agriculture and by to resolve the diplomatic crisis with Riyadh.
“We have expressed our sadness at the recent crisis between Lebanon and the Gulf. We have received information regarding the latest developments towards its resolution. And if there is anything that can be done to get the matter resolved soon as possible, we are ready to carry out, “Cavusogly said at a press conference with Bou Habib. Indeed, Lebanese politicians have shown themselves ready to resume a state of normal relations with Riyadh and the other countries of the Gulf: However, the recalibration of diplomatic relations should not mean that the Lebanese leadership should be freed from corruption, and no international institution should be forgiven for allowing years of economic mismanagement without any accountability.
Lebanon needs international partners ready to show solidarity during difficult times, but a true friend must speak hard truths. The Lebanese government is ultimately responsible for the collapse of the country’s economy and cannot be bailed out without serious reforms that include transparency in the allocation of financial aid. Otherwise, the vicious cycle of corruption will not be broken. If Turkey is to be a true ally of the Lebanese people, rather than another cynical actor exploiting those in need, it must ensure that any support given goes to its intended destination, without being based on geopolitics. .
Adnan Nasser is an independent Middle East analyst. He holds a BA in International Relations from Florida International University. Follow him on Instagram @revolutionarylebanon or contact him at [email protected].
More perspectives (@morepersps) helped edit the article.