After Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri’s withdrawal from the Arab League Foreign Ministers Council on 6 September raised concerns over the state of Egyptian-Libyan relations, Cairo has been keen to stress that channels of communication with Tripoli, the seat of the interim Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by Abdul-Hamid Dbeibeh, remain open.
Dbeibeh still refuses to hand over power to the Fathi Bashagha government that was formed in February. Egypt, however, has shown flexibility in the face of the rapid twists and turns in the Libyan situation, a quality that has strengthened Cairo’s role as a mediator. It is among the reasons why the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) and Tripoli-based High Council of State (HCS) regularly turn to Cairo to host meetings and discuss their outstanding differences over the legal framework needed to hold legislative and presidential elections.
Ahead of the 158th Arab League Foreign Ministers Council Cairo and Tripoli had disagreed over who should represent Libya, this year’s president. When the outgoing GNU appointed its foreign minister, Najla Al-Mangoush, to chair the meeting, Egypt objected on the grounds that the HoR had withdrawn its confidence from the Dbeibeh government in September 2021 and appointed the Bashagha government to replace it in February 2022. The HoR is the sole legislature in Libya, Cairo argued, and had formed the new government in collaboration with the Tripoli-based HCS.
Egypt remains committed to empowering Libyans and reducing foreign intervention in the Libyan conflict. Cairo’s longstanding position is to support the preservation of Libyan national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, oppose foreign intervention in Libyan affairs, support Libya’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, and press for the dismantling of the militias and other armed groups that perpetuate instability.
Reiterating Cairo’s position in his speech at the UN General Assembly on Saturday, Shoukri said Egypt will continue its efforts to support its Libyan brothers and help them reach a comprehensive settlement without outside intervention.
The regular visits of officials from the Libyan capital to Cairo underline the fact that the relationship between Cairo and Tripoli remains unaffected by the diplomatic disagreement at the Arab League. In addition to taking part in regional conferences held in Egypt, Libyan officials continue to discuss consular affairs with their Egyptian counterparts, including the condition of Libyans who reside in Egypt and those who visit for business, education, medical treatment, and tourism.
On 18 September, GNU Minister of Labour and Training Ali Al-Abed visited Cairo at the head of the Libyan delegation to the Arab Labour Organisation conference sponsored by the Arab League. The conference was attended by labour ministers, the heads and members of labour unions and business organisations, business leaders from 21 Arab states, and representatives of the Arab League secretariat, Arab and international organisations and embassies.
On 21 September the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Tripoli announced that Murad Hemaima, the Libyan Under Secretary for Consular Affairs, and General Youssef Murad, director of the Department of Nationality and Passports, had met with Salah Abdel-Sadek, Egypt’s assistant foreign minister for consular affairs and Egyptians abroad, and officials from the Egyptian ministries of interior and foreign affairs, in Cairo.
Participants in the meeting discussed “establishing a communication mechanism to resolve all obstacles” between the two sides on matters related to consular affairs, according to a Libyan Foreign Ministry statement. The statement added that Egypt’s assistant foreign minister for consular affairs had accepted the Libyan undersecretary for consular affairs’ invitation to visit Libya to continue discussions on the communication mechanism and other matters of mutual concern.
A day later Awatef Al-Tashani, the director-general of the Libyan state-run National Channel, represented Libya at the 52nd ordinary session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers.
Libyan participation in regional and international meetings in Cairo and ongoing discussions between Libyan officials and their Egyptian counterparts reflect the consistency of Cairo’s approach and its willingness to meet with all Libyan stakeholders and support their efforts to reach a political consensus that can end the deep political divides that have plagued Libya for nearly a decade.
Egypt will continue to promote such efforts despite ongoing differences between international powers over political and security arrangements in Libya. Although these differences have aggravated the deadlock over the executive authority and hampered the realisation of a comprehensive settlement to the Libyan crisis, Egypt remains determined to urge Libyan stakeholders and institutions to avoid military escalation and any other actions that jeopardise social and national unity and cohesion. Simultaneously, Cairo is encouraging Libyan stakeholders to pursue all peaceful means to reach a comprehensive settlement capable of pushing the political process forward and end the succession of interim phases which threaten Libya’s national unity.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: Pushing for agreement