Dozens of Libyan tribal sheikhs and prominent tribal figures met in Cairo on Monday for the first day of four days of talks sponsored by Egypt's foreign ministry “to build Libya” after months of civil strife.
Masoud Omar, a representative of over 300 tribal figures who was invited to the talks, implored Egypt at the opening of the conference to use its regional and international influence to see that the arms embargo on forces allied with Libya’s internationally recognised government based in the country’s east is lifted.
“We are brothers, we are neighbours, we have marital ties, our geography binds us… Libya’s security is Egypt’s security and vice versa… we implore Egypt’s people and president and government for more support… we ask Egypt to support the Libyan army with weapons and by fighting to remove the arms embargo forced upon the Libyan army,” Masoud said.
Egypt is a close ally of the Libyan House of Representatives and its government headed by Abdullah Al-Thinni and its recently-appointed military chief Khalifa Haftar.
Masoud criticised the United Nations for its refusal to lift the arms embargo imposed by the Security Council since the 2011 Libyan uprising, declaring that the UN has “double standards” because it fights terrorism in other countries but “bans weapons from the Libyan army which is battling the same terrorism and the Islamic State group in Libya.”
Some Libyan militants have vowed allegiance to the IS militant group. IS claimed responsibility for a February video showing the execution of 21 Christians, 20 of them Egyptians, on a Libyan beach.
Opening the conference, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry repeated Egypt’s stance advocating the unity of Libyan lands, and saying Egypt has the utmost concern for the interests of Libya, its security and stability.
“We believe there is no other way but to restore social peace and cohesion between the people of Libya which pushed us to hold this conference to the sheikhs and prominent personalities of Libya who form the backbone of Libyan society,” said Shoukry.
Shoukry said he has no doubt the conference will be used to “remove Libya from its circle of violence, struggle and terrorism.”
“I’m not exaggerating when I say the whole world is watching you and waiting for you to unite and hoping for your important role in achieving stability in all Libyan lands, and inviting Libyan youth to drop their arms and returning to the productive engagement in society,” he said.
To the applause of the attending Libyan sheikhs, Shoukry stated that Egypt will not hesitate in its support for its “Libyan brothers.”
According to one of the conference members, Al-Rohayyem Al-Gebaly from Libya’s Kabael tribe, representatives from most of Libya’s tribes have attended, including the Ubaydat, the Awageer and the Manadeba tribes.
Al-Gebaly conceded however that some didn’t attend, but attributed the reason to difficulties of transportation.
The internal conflict in Libya makes it harder for those based in the west to make it to Cairo.
The head of the conferences’ preparatory committee and tribal leader Adel Al-Faidy however told Ahram Online there were political pressures on other leaders who may not have been able to go back to Libya if they had come to the conference.
Both Al-Faidy and Al-Gebaly made a reference to the tribes of Misrata, home to one of the most powerful militias in Libya, and one which is allied to the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government based in Tropoli, as the area where it is difficult for leaders to travel to Cairo.
“It’s not the Misratans,” insisted Al-Faidy, it’s the “opponents.” Misratans aren’t enemies, said Al-Faidy. “Libya won’t reemerge without them.”
Al-Faidy insisted however that most Libyan tribal leaders are present and they have a strong will to resolve the Libyan crisis, promising that effective decisions will be taken at the end of the conference.