Egypt hosted a meeting of the chiefs-of-staff of G5 Sahel countries and representatives of donor nations from 9 to 11 February.
Participants discussed ways to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation between G5 countries through mutual support mechanisms, the exchange of expertise in security and defence and by promoting development projects in the region.
Egypt proposed a counter-terrorist training programme for G5 states to help them improve their counter-terrorist capabilities, strengthen security and open development horizons according to a statement released by the Egyptian Armed Forces. The meeting is part of Egypt’s efforts to boost cooperation to eradicate terrorism and bolster security and stability.
In mid-2018 Egypt completed the construction of the G5-Sahel’s Regional Counter-terrorism Centre and has since hosted many of the group’s activities, including specialised training sessions. In December 2018 Egypt hosted a military drill in which the organisation’s five members, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger took part.
Military and security experts stress the importance of cooperation in addressing security challenges in the Sahel and Sahara. There are signs that terrorist groups and activities will increase in the near future and the Libyan conflict is particularly worrying in this regard. As numerous African Union reports have observed Libya has become a nexus for the spread of terrorism in the Sahel. The security breakdown, proliferation of weapons and radical militias and high rates of illegal migration through Libya are among the factors that have created a fertile environment for terrorist groups.
While Egypt was hosting the G5-S, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, in his capacity as outgoing African Union chair, presided over this year’s AU summit which took as its theme Silencing the Guns in Africa. The summit, which was held in Addis Ababa, was attended by 31 African heads of state, the chairperson of the AU Commission, the secretary-general of the Arab League and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. During the summit President Al-Sisi announced Egypt’s willingness to host an African conference on establishing an African counter-terrorist force. He said that he was keen to engage in extensive consultations towards this end, including with the African Peace and Security Council and the Specialised Technical Committee on Defence.
The Libyan crisis naturally imposed itself on the agenda in Addis. President Al-Sisi met with his Algerian counterpart, Abdel-Madjid Tebboune, in the Ethiopian capital. According to a statement by the spokesman for the Egyptian presidency Al-Sisi congratulated Tebboune on his election as president and the end of the transitional period in Algeria and reaffirmed the historic and brotherly bonds between Egypt and Algeria. Al-Sisi restated Egypt’s support for Algeria in its battle against terrorism in the Sahara/Sahel region, and for the measures the Algerian leadership has taken to safeguard Algerian national security. Noting the similarities between Egypt’s and Algeria’s circumstances and challenges Al-Sisi underscored the need to support security coordination and intelligence exchange on terrorist groups which pose a constant threat to both countries and to the region as whole.
The Algerian president expressed his appreciation for the close relations and unique bonds between his country and Egypt at the official and popular levels and praised the considerable progress Egypt has made in recent years consolidating security, stability and development and enabling Egypt to resume its leading role both regionally and internationally. He added that this will have positive repercussions on collaborative Arab and African efforts to reach political solutions to ongoing crises in the region.
Al-Sisi and Tebboune exchanged views on a number of regional issues, not least the Libyan crisis. They agreed it was necessary to coordinate more closely given that Egypt and Algeria are both neighbours of Libya and the Libyan crisis has a direct impact on the national security of both.
The two presidents reaffirmed their determination to promote a political solution that will end the Libyan crisis, pave the way to the restoration of stability and close the door to foreign interventions.
Political analysts in Egypt say the purpose of Cairo’s overtures to Libya’s neighbours is to promote greater consensus and coordinate efforts to halt the deterioration of the situation in Libya. Egypt is particularly concerned by the ongoing Turkish military intervention in Libya which threatens to increase the influence of militias and mercenaries in Tripoli. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri’s participation in the meeting of Libya’s neighbours last month, the meeting between presidents Al-Sisi and Tebboune on the margins of the AU summit and steps to bring Egypt and Algeria closer together on the Libyan question are testimony to Cairo’s grave concern over the situation across its western border.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.