Egypt and Libya Together on the Tough Path to the Future


Egypt President Al-Sisi and Libya Prime Minister Dbeibeh
Egypt President Al-Sisi and Libya Prime Minister Dbeibeh

On 18th February, the Prime Minister of the newly elected executive authority in Libya, Abdel Hamid Dbeibeh visited the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, in Cairo. During the meeting, Dbeibeh expressed appreciation for the sincere and effective efforts that Egypt exerted to solve the Libyan crisis, in the past years. He also thanked President El-Sisi for his support to Libyan state institutions in combating terrorism and fighting extremists. El-Sisi and Dbeibeh agreed to establish a comprehensive partnership between their sister countries to help Libya recreate the successful Egyptian experience of restoring peace and stability, and progressing with economic development, after the gloomy years of the post Arab Spring era.


Libya is, allegedly, the most important country for Egypt’s stability and security. Egypt shares its longest border of 1,115 kilometers with Libya. If you look at the map, you may easily blur the line between Libya and Egypt to see them as one piece of land, with a vast desert in the middle, and a wide sea above. Actually, in 1970s, Libya’s then-President Gaddafi made an offer to Egypt’s then-President Sadat to unify the lands of Libya and Egypt into one country. Sadat’s decline to Gaddafi’s offer led to diplomatic tensions that ended up with a short period of armed conflict, historically recorded as the Four Days War (21-24 July 1977). However, peace was quickly restored after the two conjoined North African countries realized that their destinies are interdependent.


However, the relationship between Libya and Egypt went through a tough lane, in the years following the Arab Spring revolutions, which brought down the decades-long dictatorships of Gaddafi in Libya and Mubarak in Egypt. In 2012-2016, Islamist militia and terrorist organizations found a safe haven in the Arab Spring countries that went through civil wars, such as Syria and Libya. When the Muslim Brotherhood ruled Egypt in 2012, they released Islamist terrorists from prison, including the assassinators of President Sadat, and allowed thousands of Egyptian extremists who fought with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, in 1990s, to return to Egypt.


As Egypt succeeded in removing the Muslim Brotherhood regime from power, in 2013, and launched a nationwide campaign to quarantine terrorism on the Egyptian soil, many terrorists resorted to their fellow Islamist militia in the war-torn Libya. From there, they launched several attacks against Egyptian policemen and military personnel, especially at the western border cities. Therefore, Egypt cooperated with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in reassembling and strengthening the Libyan military to fight against the Islamist militia that has become a direct threat to Egypt’s national security. Hence, the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the leadership of General Khalifa Hafter was formed in mid-2014.


In December 2015, the interim Government of National Accord (GNA) was formed by a United Nations initiative. The GNA accommodated in leadership positions the members of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, who resent Egypt President El-Sisi for declaring their group a terrorist organization and standing up against the rise of political Islamists in the region. The GNA, also, declared LNA as an illegal militia and refused to cooperate or at least negotiate a peaceful coexistence with them. As the clashes between GNA and LNA heated, Egypt and UAE remained on the side of LNA, while GNA sought help from Turkey, which is led by an Islamist president.


In December 2019, Turkish military personnel and Turkey-recruited mercenaries were deployed to Tripoli to support GNA against LNA. Egypt saw this move as a direct threat to its national security, given the animosity that has been developing between Cairo and Ankara, since the removal of the Erdogan-loyal Muslim Brotherhood regime from power in Egypt, in 2013. Therefore, Egypt set the cities of Sirt and Jufra in north central Libya as a redline for Turkey troops not to trespass. Egypt’s purpose was to protect the eastern territories dominated by LNA, which is seen, by the Egyptian military, as the western strategic depth of Egypt’s national security. Fortunately, Turkey respected this redline to avoid unnecessary confrontation with Egypt.


Yet, Turkey’s continued illegal military presence in Libya has continued to disturb Egypt. Therefore, in December 2020, the Egyptian intelligence bureau took a step to balance Egypt’s alliances in Libya, through reaching out to GNA, while maintain strong relations with LNA. Egypt’s main goal out of this move was to mitigate Turkey’s influence on the decision-making in the GNA, especially after the exchange of fiery threats between LNA’s commander Haftar and Turkey’s Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar, after Turkey announced the extension of its military presence in Libya for another eighteen months.


It is clear that the newly elected government in Libya has a completely different vision than that of the GNA. While GNA intensified divisions among Libyans and opened the door for Turkey’s military intervention which infringed the sovereignty of the Libyan state; the new Libyan government is determined to end divisions and bring all Libyans together under one unified prosperous state. This is a goal that Egypt is ready to support with all means. For Egypt, Libya is a sister country that resembles an important dimension to Egypt’s national security.


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