The one-day summit held in Berlin on Sunday called for a comprehensive political settlement of the Libyan crisis through consolidating the ceasefire declared on 12 January. It urged the two warring parties — the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj — to hold a national dialogue under the auspices of the UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame.
Egyptian MPs, however, say that though the conference was encouraging the risk of the armed conflict morphing into a regional confrontation remains, with unpredictable consequences for Libya’s neighbours.
Farag Amer, chairman of parliament’s Industrial Committee, said Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s insistence on deploying troops in Libya heightened the possibility of a dangerous security fallout.
“Egypt’s army and security forces were put on high alert last week along its 1,000 km border with Libya to be ready to contain the risk of any spillover from the conflict there,” said Amer.
The second and third field armies carried out several combat missions last week as part of the Kader 2020 manoeuvers. Troops from naval and air defence forces and commandos participated in the military exercises on the North Coast.
In 2016 and 2017 terrorists were able to infiltrate Egypt from Libya, said Amer. “The terrorist Islamic State (IS) also killed 21 Egyptian Copts working in Libya in February 2015. While it is true the LNA now controls many of the cities near the border and a number of terrorist leaders have been arrested, dangers remain as long as Erdogan and the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Tripoli are intent on turning Libya into a fertile ground for Islamist forces coming from Syria.”
Two weeks ago Erdogan said he would send troops to Libya. There were Western press reports that Turkey has already transferred jihadists and mercenaries to Libya. The Guardian newspaper last week said “2,000 fighters had moved from Turkey or will arrive imminently to fight on the battlefields of Libya”. The UK newspaper also asserted that 650 Turkish funded Syrian National Army fighters arrived in Tripoli at the end of December. Another contingent of 1,350 men crossed into Turkey on their way to Libya and Islamist militants from the Sham Legion are expected to be sent.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the figure of transferred mercenaries at 1,750 and said an additional 1,500 were being trained in Turkey.
The Guardian reported that the mercenaries were being paid $2,000 a month and had been promised Turkish nationality.
French President Emanuel Macron told France 24 that “if this information is confirmed it is very worrisome” since it connects two theaters of operations, Libya and Syria, and would facilitate the emergence of terrorist hubs in Africa’s Sahel region.
Al-Sarraj told the BBC’s Arabic channel on Monday that his government is ready to receive foreign fighters to defend it against the advancing LNA.
Ebba Kalondo, a spokesman for the African Union (AU), warned this week that “Libya’s neighbours Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Chad and fellow AU members beyond could suffer consequences from the Libyan crisis in the same way Syria’s neighbours suffered because of the civil war there.”
He added, “These countries could face an influx of refugees, and terrorists hiding among the refugees might infiltrate Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.”
Ahmed Badawi, head of parliament’s Telecommunications Committee, said the Berlin summit might bring military operations in Libya to a temporary halt but warned “the conflict could spiral out of control at any moment, and Egypt should be ready to face this threat”.
“As long as the Muslim Brotherhood is in control in Tripoli and receives huge financial, diplomatic and military support from countries like Turkey and Qatar, it will seek to target Egypt’s national security regardless of peaceful solutions.”
In a statement issued on 12 January, parliament’s Arab Affairs Committee said “Turkish President Erodgan’s move to deploy troops in Libya and send mercenaries is a ploy to support the agenda of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. After losing power in Egypt, Sudan, Algeria and Tunisia the Brotherhood is seeking Erdogan’s help to gain a foothold in Libya and target the security of Egypt,” said the statement.
“Turkish attempts to illegally expand its territorial waters in the gas rich eastern Mediterranean poses another threat. Egypt has beefed up its security measures along the border with Libya, and naval forces ready to stand up to any Turkish incursions into Egypt’s territorial waters.”
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said this week that “should foreign interference in Libya threaten Egypt’s national security it would be natural to resort to force to neutralise any danger.” He also warned that countries which facilitate the transfer of mercenaries from Syria to war-stricken countries like Libya could face international legal lawsuits.
Kamal Amer, chairman of parliament’s Defence and National Security committee told reporters this week that “we — the Egyptian army, police and citizens — have to prepare ourselves for all aspects of the conflict in Libya, particularly those relating to security and the possibility of terrorists infiltrating into our borders”.
“We know that Tripoli and Misrata, the cities where the armed conflict is concentrated, are far from Egypt’s borders but as long as mercenaries and foreign fighters flow into Libya with support from the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli they attempt to target Egypt and we have to be ready to stand up to this threat.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.