The first official visit by a high-level Egyptian delegation to Tripoli last week reflects Cairo’s openness to all Libyan stakeholders and its determination to handle the Libyan crisis comprehensively.
Egypt has long made it clear that it has no bias in favour of one Libyan region or party over another. It signalled this once again on the eve of the delegation’s visit to western Libya by hosting another delegation including a broad range of tribal, political and academic figures from southern Libya.
The Egyptian approach is to promote an intra-Libyan solution to the Libyan crisis, with its role being to bridge the differences between the Libyan parties and help them reach consensual solutions. The Cairo Declaration in June and the meetings Egypt has hosted to support the political, economic and military tracks of the Libyan process are milestones in this effort.
The high-level delegation’s visit to Tripoli was an extension of this strategy. The agenda included meetings with most of the political and military leaders of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). Egypt has previously demonstrated its openness to the GNA, having hosted GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and GNA security and military delegations in Cairo.
However, last week’s visit marks an important shift at this level, epitomised by the agreement on the reopening of the Egyptian embassy in Tripoli, a step that reflects Egypt’s confidence in the improvement in the security and political environment in the Libyan capital and the GNA’s recognition of Cairo’s pivotal role in support of peace and stability in Libya.
The timing of the visit was also significant given the current impasse in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) that has been convening in Tunisia. Cairo is eager to safeguard the achievements that this has made thus far, including the participants’ agreement to hold general elections by the end of 2021. It is working with the various parties to help them overcome obstacles and consider alternatives in the hope of reaching a breakthrough. Egypt is, perhaps, the outside stakeholder best positioned to do this as it is the only one that has demonstrated its willingness to hear out all the parties.
The inclusion of meetings with GNA military leaders reflected another crucial aim of the visit, which was to ensure that the ceasefire agreement continues to hold. There has been a marked rise in tensions between the eastern and western camps over the question of the continued Turkish military presence in Libya despite the articles of the ceasefire agreement. Cairo has been closely monitoring developments on the ground in Libya and has formulated messages it has sought to convey to officials in Tripoli. One message would have expressed Egypt’s firm opposition to foreign military intervention in Libya, which can only serve to fuel the conflict and never to resolve it.
Reactions to the visit reflect another important dimension of Egypt’s mediating efforts that have been welcomed locally and internationally. Egypt enjoys a credibility in Libya and abroad that other stakeholders lack since it has actively and tangibly demonstrated its commitment to building a climate conducive to the restoration of stability in Libya.
This is why observers believe we are on the threshold of a new phase in turning Egypt’s comprehensive outreach to all the Libyan players into progress at all levels and why they predict further exchanges and coordination between Egyptian and GNA officials as part of Egypt’s larger network of relations with the Libyan people as a whole.
The reopening of Egyptian airspace to Libyan Airlines is of symbolic importance in this regard, and Cairo is anticipating the visit of a large and diverse Libyan economic delegation next month. It is also looking into opening Egyptian consulates in different regions of Libya in order to facilitate movement between the two countries.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.