In a historic meeting on Monday, Egyptian MPs voted in favour of granting President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi a mandate to send “elements of the Armed Forces on combat missions outside Egypt’s borders in order to defend Egypt’s national security.”
At the beginning of a two-hour closed-door meeting, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said only MPs were allowed to attend the meeting. “Even parliament’s staff, with the exception of Secretary-general Mahmoud Fawzi, are not Allowed to attend this meeting,” he commented.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Alaa Fouad and Deputy Minister of Defence Mamdouh Shahin participated in the meeting.
Abdel-Aal ordered photographers, guards, and staff to leave the meeting hall. He also asked MPs to close their mobile phones and not to divulge the contents of the discussion.
In an official statement following the meeting, parliament said that MPs had “unanimously approved sending elements of the Egyptian Armed Forces on combat missions outside the borders of the Egyptian state to defend Egyptian national security on the western strategic front against the acts of criminal militias and foreign terrorist elements until the mission ends.”
The statement said the meeting was in line with Article 152 of the constitution, which states that “the president of the republic is the supreme leader of the Armed Forces. He shall not declare war or send the Armed Forces outside the state’s borders to undertake fighting missions unless he first seeks the opinion of the National Defence Council and gains the approval of a two-thirds majority of MPs.”
As a result, Abdel-Aal invited MPs to hold the meeting on the afternoon of 20 July. The statement indicated that the meeting had discussed the outcome of the National Defence Council (NDC) meting held and headed by the president on 19 July to review the threats posed by the western front (the border with Libya) to Egyptian national security.
The NDC said in a statement following the meeting that Egypt sought to stabilise the current situation and ensure that the declared red lines of the Libyan cities of Sirte and Jufra were not crossed in order to achieve peace between all the Libyan parties.
Parliament’s statement said that “MPs and the speaker voiced their high appreciation of the efforts being exerted by the Armed Forces, the nation’s shield and sword, to protect the national, Arab, and regional order.
“The people have never let the army down, and the army have never let the people down,” the statement said.
The statement concluded that the Egyptian nation, throughout history, had always advocated peace, but at the same time it had never accepted aggression or the violation of its rights.
“The Egyptian nation is strongly capable of defending itself, its interests, its brothers and its neighbours against any dangers or threats,” the statement said, adding that “the Armed Forces and the leadership now have the constitutional and legal licence to decide when and where to respond to these dangers and threats.”
Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Mahmoud Al-Sherif told Al-Ahram Weekly that the decision to hold a secret or closed-door meeting was in line with articles 152 of the constitution and 130 of parliament’s by-laws.
“Both articles stipulate that the meeting should be secret or closed-door because the issues discussed are mainly related to national security and shouldn’t be open to the public or the media,” Al-Sherif said.
Article 281 of parliament’s by-laws states that the House shall hold a closed-door meeting upon the request of the president of the republic, the prime minister, the House speaker, or at least 20 MPs, and that the House’s majority shall decide whether the matter subject for discussion is conducted in an open or closed-door meeting.
According to Al-Sherif, the closed-door meeting on Monday was not a precedent. “In February 1965, parliament held a secret meeting to listen to a statement on the progress of the war in Yemen and the participation of the Egyptian Armed Forces in the war,” he said, also indicating that “in March 1970, a secret parliamentary meeting was held to listen to a statement by Egypt’s ambassador in Moscow on the policy of the then Soviet Union in the Middle East, and in May 1948 a plenary parliamentary meeting was held in secret to discuss the war in Palestine and whether Egypt should join the Arab states in this war.”
Al-Sherif said the closed-door meeting was a necessity. “Not only did it come one day after the meeting of the National Defence Council, but it also followed a 16 July meeting between President Al-Sisi and the leaders of the Libyan tribes, who asked him to authorise the Egyptian Armed Forces to intervene to protect the national security of Libya and Egypt if they saw an imminent danger to both countries.
“President Al-Sisi said he would do so only after obtaining the approval of the Egyptian parliament,” Al-Sherif said.
He recalled that on 13 July, the Libyan parliament had passed a resolution also asking the Egyptian and Libyan armed forces to work together to preserve their shared national security in the face of the dangers posed by the “Turkish occupation”.
He said that the fact that Al-Sisi had obtained a green light from parliament to protect Egyptian national security from dangers coming from the western border did not mean that “war is imminent.”
“President Al-Sisi said there is a red line in the key Mediterranean coastal city of Sirte, which the Turkey-supported government in Tripoli should not cross as this would pose a direct threat to Egypt’s national security,” Al-Sherif said, adding that “MPs approved that elements of the Egyptian Armed Forces could go on combat missions outside the borders of the country.”
In his meeting with the Libyan tribes on 16 July, Al-Sisi also said that Egypt had the strongest army in the region and in Africa.
“But the Egyptian army is a very wise one, and it is not interested in mounting occupation operations. If we need to undertake any operations outside our borders, we will be required to first obtain the approval of the Egyptian parliament,” Al-Sisi said.
MPs told the Weekly that they were keen during the closed-door meeting to ensure the mandate was in line with Article 152 of the constitution.
Mohamed Hani Al-Hennawi, an independent MP representing the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira, said that the MPs had closely followed all the issues discussed during the meeting between Al-Sisi and leaders of the Libyan tribes on 16 July.
“I think that the outcome of the 16 July meeting was the main reason that led the majority of my colleagues in the House to vote in favour of granting President Al-Sisi a mandate to take all the measures necessary to preserve the national security of both Egypt and Libya,” Al-Hennawi said.
MP Hussein Abu Gad, a member of the parliamentary majority Mostaqbal Watan Party, also said that “the issues raised during President Al-Sisi’s meeting with the leaders of the Libyan tribes on 16 July were directly related to the national security of both Egypt and Libya.
“All Egyptian MPs were keen to closely follow this meeting, particularly Al-Sisi’s indication that he should seek approval from the Egyptian parliament before he undertook any military operations outside our borders,” Abu Gad said, agreeing that “what President Al-Sisi said is in line with the constitution.”
However, he indicated that Egypt’s military intervention did not necessarily mean that Egypt would send large numbers of troops to Libya or that Egyptian military forces would participate in any combat missions in Libya.
“I think that President Al-Sisi was quite clear during the 16 July meeting when he said that Egypt’s Armed Forces would work side by side with the Libyan National Army in terms of military support, training Libyan army officers in Egypt’s military academy, and helping the Libyan tribes to fight the Turkish aggression and mercenaries,” Abu Gad said.
Said Hassassin, an MP from the Democratic Peace Party and a media commentator, said that “by giving support and assistance to the Libyan army, Egypt will be able to help the Libyan people free the country from the Turkish occupation.”
Hassassin said the Turkish occupation of Western Libya would be a direct threat to Egypt’s national security if Turkey occupied Sirte and Jufra. “This is why President Al-Sisi said these were a red line for Egypt,” he added.
Tarek Metwali, an independent MP representing Suez City, said MPs had approved Al-Sisi’s Libya mandate after they had agreed that Egypt should take preventive measures.
“If we had showed reluctance or hesitation, this would have sent a negative message, but if we were decisive and said we would not let the aggressors cross a certain line, this would be a deterrent message. I think this is the message that has so far dissuaded the Tripoli government from mounting any military adventures,” Metwali said.
“Most of the terrorist operations that have killed army and police officers and Christian Copts in Egypt in 2016 and 2017 came through the borders with Libya, and it is the Egyptian Armed Forces’ confrontation of these and cooperation with the Libyan National Army that put an end to these operations.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly