Tuesday July 05, 2022

Turkey bolsters influence across North Africa’s Maghreb

December 25, 2020

Turkey is boosting its influence across North Africa, analysts say, intervening militarily in war-torn Libya and using "soft power", trade and investment in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

While Turkish-made drones have won battles in Libya, its soap operas and other cultural products have won hearts and minds in Maghreb countries, several of which were once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Muslim President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has in recent years asserted Ankara’s role as a regional player, sparring with Greece and the European Union as well as with Russia and Gulf nations.

His willingness to confront European former colonial powers, especially France, and present himself as a defender of the Muslim world has earned him the respect of many in North Africa and elsewhere, say observers.

Turkey’s growing influence in the Maghreb is the result of Erdogan’s "neo-Ottoman and pan-Islamic" foreign policy strategy, said historian Pierre Vermeren of Sorbonne University. "It really started in 2011 at the time of the Arab Spring" when popular revolts toppled the region’s autocrats and Turkey backed Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, he said.

"In 2020 there was a sudden acceleration of Turkish influence, which is now direct with its intervention in Libya, putting Turkish soldiers and mercenaries on the borders of Algeria and Tunisia." Ankara-backed networks are promoting Turkey "through social media and the press," Vermeren said.

Political analyst Ali Bakeer, based in Ankara, agreed that "Turkey is seeking to strengthen its relations with the countries of the Maghreb region as a part of its opening up on Africa strategy.

"Turkish-Algerian relations are emerging fast. Meanwhile mutual interests between Turkey and Libya are evolving day by day. When it comes to Tunisia and Morocco, Turkey is trying to focus on the mutual economic benefits."

Turkey’s impact has been most dramatic in oil-rich Libya, which was thrown into chaos after a 2011 Nato-backed uprising toppled and led to the killing of long-time dictator Moamer Qadhafi.

Ankara’s help with military advisers, materiel and mercenaries -- echoing its interventions and defence support from Syria to Azerbaijan -- proved decisive this year when it rescued the UN-recognised Government of National Accord.