The exact character of Egyptian-Libyan relations during the current transitional phase which both countries are experiencing is unpredictable, according to an increasing number of observers. The most important feature, it seems, is the number of Egyptian workers in Libya, which is expected to rise once reconstruction begins.
Egyptian officials agree. Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr recently revealed that nearly one million Egyptians will participate in reconstruction projects, but this figure was criticised by many Egyptians who returned from Libya. For instance, most of the youth who escaped the violence in Libya during the last few months assert that the foreign ministry has no data on them, nor any official figures.
In fact, Ambassador Ahmed Abdel-Hakam, assistant minister for consular affairs, concurred during a telephone conversation, but added that the youth who were in Libya had not notified the embassy or signed official contracts. The Egyptian government at the time was satisfied with that situation.
Reports have been leaked during the transitional phase in Egypt that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) wanted to play a role in Libya’s reconstruction, and suggested that armed forces companies directly or indirectly participate in the reconstruction process. Egypt’s military is involved in many kinds of economic activities, including construction, social clubs and even restaurants.
The first step in helping Libya is removing the land mines at Al-Bareqa Port which Gaddafi planted over the past six months, as stated by Abdel-Moneim Al-Huni, the representative of the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Egypt and its representative at the Arab League.
“Libya took the initiative by giving the Egyptian military a role in reconstruction projects there,” stated a military expert who closely follows developments in Libya. “But it seems that a decision or plan has not been finalised on the issue.
“What is certain is that the Egyptian military will leave a clear mark on the Libyan scene in the future because of the army’s long and distinguished expertise, especially that this is not about operations, but development. At the same time, their contribution will extend to playing a role in training Libya’s armed forces, which is not an economic endeavour, but could revive what is known as Egypt’s gentle, pioneering politics.”
Libya Crisis Management Committee (LCMC) and NTC member Abdel-Nasser Shamatta asserted that the historic and geographic ties between the two neighbours will guarantee future relations between them. The current stage in both countries after the success of their revolutions is the strongest proof that they are heading towards better relations than during the regimes of the now-deposed Gaddafi and Mubarak.
The Libyan leader revealed that an estimated 30 per cent of Egyptians are related to Libyans through blood or marriage. Furthermore, there were nearly three million Egyptians in Libya before the war, of which one million remained. Libya will rely on these Egyptians for the reconstruction projects.
Shamatta stated that the LCMC is meeting in Cairo today, Monday, to discuss the production of basic commodities, especially bread, and shops and businesses that require Egyptian workers. He cautioned, however, though that security experts in Libya assert that the country needs three months to ensure Egyptians will be safe travelling to Libya.
Shamatta, who is also a philosophy professor, revealed that many Egyptians died among the ranks of revolutionaries opposed to Gaddafi’s regime. “We know the names of each one of them,” he said. “Even the heroes who did not die were helpful to us in battle and confrontations. They were shining models of heroism in opening the victory gates for the revolutionaries. We can never repay them for the honourable blood they shed; when we honour the martyrs of the revolution in Libya they will be in the forefront.” He added that “even the youth who were in the west, where Gaddafi’s troops were in control before we reached Tripoli, were helpless, like the Libyan people.”
Shamatta made a surprising revelation about the role of Egypt’s military in Libya’s revolution: “The Egyptian army extended logistical support to the revolution in Libya, which cannot be ignored, and there was coordination since the beginning,” he asserts.
“There was also Egyptian aid that cannot be denied, especially medical caravans that came through the Salloum border crossing, and others. There was also the media message and solidarity with the Libyan revolution declared by the new Egypt. The news of Mubarak’s ouster from power in Egypt was the greatest inspiration for the revolutionaries in Libya to follow in the footsteps of their brothers in Egypt.”
He added that today’s LCMC meeting “will decide what is needed from Egypt and discuss agreed upon plans for the army’s assistance in clearing landmines and creating a national Libyan army, which the Egyptian military will help establish.” He further stated: “NATO will not gulp down the oil and priority for large projects will be given to companies in the West; the West has always been good to us and we have to pay them back. We are glad to be finally rid of what was here.”
There has been talk about the dangers of the presence of NATO forces that threaten the national security of countries in the region, especially Egypt, in the coming phase – this coincided with reports of opening permanent military bases.
Mohamed Fayez Jibril, member of Libya’s NTC, denied these rumours, saying that this issue is controversial and over-exaggerated. He claims it is unrelated to reality, which requires that NATO continue its mission without permanent NATO military bases in Libya.
Brigadier General Safwat El-Zayyat, a military expert, agrees. El-Zayyat told Ahram Online that the Southern Command Centre in Napoli is running operations for bases in Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and that sometimes there were special air strikes launched from Washington and returned to bases there. Hence, the scope of operations has a radius of 500-600 square km that Egypt is not part of – despite the fact that they had previously participated in joint war games on Egyptian territories.
At the same time, he argued that the era of exaggerating the threat of military bases to national security is over, noting that military bases in Gulf States have never threatened these countries’ national security. They can also be shut down any time, such as when Saudi Arabia closed the Prince Sultan Base after the Al-Khobar attack.