What does Egypt want in Libya?

What does Egypt want in Libya?

Libya represents a vital field for Egypt, especially as the two countries have about 1200 kilometers of common land borders. Thus, the continuing war between the Libyan National Army forces, led by Khalifa Haftar, and the forces of the Government of National Accord led by Fayez Al-Saraj, is a weakness point for Egyptian border security. The problem is compounded by the presence of extremists.

Many were wondering why Cairo hesitated to intervene militarily in Libya, although the situation in this war-torn country portends catastrophic consequences for Egyptian national security.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s recent statements explained the nature of Cairo’s attitude toward Libya crisis, and the reasons and the conditions that may lead Egypt to a military intervention.

Sisi stressed that Egypt is ready for an intervention, warning that Sirte and Al Jufra Airbase are red lines for Cairo.

The Egyptian president also confirmed the army’s intervention in Libya is legitimate, explaining that the UN Charter gives Cairo the right of self-defense.

Sisi did not overlook the moral character of Cairo’s intervention in the crisis, assuring that Egypt has no ambitions as far as Libyan wealth goes. He clarified that the main goals are to protect Egypt’s western borders, a ceasefire between the conflicting parties in Libya, and launching negotiations to reach a political settlement.

All of the Egyptian president’s assertions are fully consistent with the army’s military doctrine, as Egypt doesn’t want to get involved in an offensive war against anyone or on behalf of anyone. The last time the Egyptian army took part in an outside war was within the 34-nation international coalition to liberate Kuwait in 1991 from the invasion of Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

As Egypt realizes the sensitivity of Arab peoples in general, and the Libyan people in particular, toward any foreign military presence, even if it is Arab, Sisi emphasized the readiness to train the tribal youth under the supervision of their Sheikhs to protect Libya.

Sisi also stressed the necessity of withdrawing all foreign powers to end the existence of all terrorist militias.

Unlike those seeking political and economic clout in Libya, Egyptian intervention – if it does occur – will be part of an integrated vision to address the Libyan crisis, caused by NATO’s failure to complete its mission after Muammar al-Gaddafi’s overthrow.

Cairo believes that the decision of intervention may be the beginning of the solution to the crisis in this war-torn country, and to activate the Cairo declaration, which represents an integrated view to solving the crisis.

According to the Cairo Declaration, the best way to stabilize Libya is to expel extremists from the country and to help the Libyan people move forward in a political path leading to the formation of a national government satisfied by Libyans, reflecting Libya’s tribal and geographical diversity without any foreign pressure.

Some are mistaken when they believe that any Egyptian intervention will be to support Haftar. But the truth is that Egypt believes in the importance of national armies to achieve stability and eliminate the chaos of terrorism that foreign powers have financed in several Arab countries after the eruption of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Egypt is ready to support any party that can stabilize Libya and guarantee the Libyans the freedom to choose their own representatives.

The Egyptian president’s alluding to the readiness of his forces to perform any missions outside the borders is a complementary message to what he has confirmed when he launched the Cairo declaration, when he said: “I warn against any side continuing to search for a military solution to the Libyan crisis.”

Thus, if Egypt intervenes in Libya, it does not seek a military victory against anyone, and acts instead because it believes that a peaceful solution must be protected against chaos, which cannot allow a peaceful political process that brings all the Libyan parties together.

Although many welcomed the Cairo Declaration, its implementation cannot wait until the militia chaos reaches Egypt’s western border.

The current military status of the warring parties in Libya may be the moment for all sides to lay down their arms to Enable Libyans to negotiate to shape the future of their country.

Sisi is not the only one who sees Sirte as a red line. It is also a red line for many great powers because its oil companies work behind it. So it is a completely closed area, in which no one in the world can put forward without the permission of these countries, and this may explain the frequent news that French Rafal fighters have overflown Sirte and its surroundings in a way that send a message to the forces trying to topple and seize Sirte.

We are, therefore, at the point where the forces of the Government of National Accord cannot overcome them because of the interests of regional and international forces, and thus all parties can sit at the negotiating table in equal positions.

By declaring its readiness to intervene, Egypt offers a great opportunity for peace in this Arab country. This opportunity may be lost if the aspiring ones insist on moving forward in the Libyan East in the hope of winning a greater pie of interests and influence, or if major powers insist on using this country as a card in a major geopolitical game against their competitors.

Islam Farag
Islam Farag is an Egyptian journalist, analyst and researcher. He is an expert on Middle East affairs and has contributed dozens of press kits on regional affairs and issues. He participated in many research projects within Egyptian governmental and non-governmental institutions. He has worked in many Egyptian and Arab press institutions as a journalist and analyst. He is interested in issues of the historic relationship of the Arab world with regional and world powers. Also he is interested in power conflicts in the middle east.

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January 2023