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Updated Jul 21, 2020
This photo posted on the official Facebook page of Egypt’s presidential spokesman on July 16 shows President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (center) meeting with Libyan tribal leaders in Cairo. (Egyptian Presidency/via AFP)
This photo posted on the official Facebook page of Egypt’s presidential spokesman on July 16 shows President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (center) meeting with Libyan tribal leaders in Cairo. (Egyptian Presidency/via AFP)

Egypt’s parliament has given President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi a mandate to deploy troops “outside the borders of the Egyptian state, to defend Egyptian national security in the Arab strategic direction against the actions of armed criminal militias and foreign terrorist elements.”

The mandate was passed only a few days after Sisi met with Libyan tribal leaders, who asked for the support of the Egyptian armed forces to “expel the Turkish colonizer.” The vagueness of the mandate’s wording, however, suggests that this approval by parliament could also have been given in the context of the ongoing dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

 

It increases the risk of the conflict turning into a full-blown regional proxy war

 

Egypt has been a continuous supporter of the Libyan House of Representatives, based in Tobruk, the rival government to the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in Tripoli. The House of Representatives is supported by the Libyan National Army (LNA) under its commander Khalifa Haftar, which has been waging a steady campaign to oust the GNA since April 2019. Just a few months ago, Turkey began to send troops and material support to the GNA, helping to stop the LNA’s advance on Tripoli and reverse several key gains it had made.

Reacting to these setbacks, Sisi has issued several public statements making it clear that the seizure of the Libyan cities of Sirte and Jufra by rival forces would be viewed as a red line, thus inviting military intervention. Jufra functions as a corridor into western Libya and is home to an airbase that has been crucial for LNA advances. Sirte is an oil port that plays a key role in the Libyan oil economy. Both Egypt and Turkey are looking to expand their Mediterranean energy markets, with Libya a key strategic location for both countries.

Unlike prior escalations of the Libyan conflict, the direct involvement of the Egyptian military in Libya’s protracted civil war increases the risk of the conflict turning into a full-blown regional proxy war akin to what has transpired in Yemen and Syria. With Turkey a member of NATO and Egypt an ally of the United States, the fallout of such a conflict would be catastrophic for regional security and for the well-being of Libyan civilians. Every effort now needs to be made to pull all foreign actors operating in Libyan territory back from the brink.

 

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