Egyptian-Greek rapprochement

Doaa El-Bey , Friday 14 Oct 2022

The Turkish-Libyan maritime deal topped the agenda of the Egyptian and Greek foreign ministers meeting this week.

Egyptian-Greek rapprochement
Egyptian-Greek rapprochement


Issues related to energy and cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean region used to have priority in the meetings of Egyptian and Greek officials. But the recently signed economic and maritime deals that Libya has inked with Turkey were of prime concern in this week’s meeting between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Cairo.

Both officials highlighted that the outgoing Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU) is not entitled to sign international deals, describing these as a threat to regional stability.

The signing was widely rejected by the EU and European countries as a deepening of the tensions between Turkey and Greece, which has said that such energy exploration deals infringe Greek territorial waters.

Meanwhile, analysts regarded the step as a manoeuvre by Ankara to test how much it can expand its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Turkey is trying to exploit the global energy crisis and the volatile situation in Libya to boost its presence in Libya and the region, according to Rakha Hassan, a former assistant to the foreign minister.

Last week, the GNU government headed by Abdel-Hamid Dbeibah signed a series of agreements in the hydrocarbon and oil sectors with Turkey in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

The agreements are said to include energy exploration in maritime areas, according to Turkish officials, added Hassan.

“However, it is likely that Ankara will avoid any exploration in controversial areas so as not to arouse other regional states,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Following his meeting with Dendias, Shoukri said in a press conference that they had both affirmed that the outgoing GNU in Tripoli does not have the authority to strike international deals and agreed on the necessity for the international community and the UN to take a firm and clear stance to protect legitimacy in Libya,

Dbeibah’s government was selected in the capital Tripoli in the west of Libya as part of a UN-led peace process last year that granted it an 18-month period for holding parliamentary and presidential elections. It failed to hold the elections due last December, and its mandate ended this June.

According to Hassan, while both Shoukri and Dendias challenged the legitimacy of the deal and the GNU, it seems that some regional countries do not consider it to be illegitimate. The EU, for instance, objected to the agreements because they “infringe the sovereign rights of third states and do not comply with the Law of the Sea” and did not mention the illegitimacy of the Libyan government.

Other states including Algeria believe that Dbeibah’s government should stay in power until elections are held.

Ahead of the 158th Arab League Foreign Ministers Council held last month, Cairo and Tripoli disagreed over who should represent Libya, also this year’s president of the League.

When the GNU appointed its foreign minister, Najla Al-Mangoush, to chair the meeting, Egypt objected and withdrew from the opening session on the grounds that the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) had withdrawn its confidence from the Dbeibeh government in September last year and appointed the Fathi Bashagha government to replace it in February.

The HoR is the sole legitimate legislature in Libya, according to Cairo, and it had formed the new government in collaboration with the Tripoli-based High Council of State (HCS).

Outgoing Libyan Prime Minister Dbeibah defended the agreement with Turkey, saying that it would help Tripoli to continue exploring for oil in its territorial waters in cooperation with other states as the global demand for gas is increasing.

“It’s our right to sign Memoranda of Understanding [MoUs], and we have signed hundreds of them in order to promote cooperation with other states,” he said.

The recently signed deals are based on a maritime border deal signed by Turkey and the then Tripoli-based government in 2019 granting Ankara access to a contested economic zone in the Mediterranean.

Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and the EU condemned the deal as a clear violation of international maritime laws.

Regarding the internal situation in Libya, both Shoukri and Dendias at their meeting this week called for holding the long-delayed elections in Libya to end the conflict in the country as soon as possible.

Shoukri has also reiterated Cairo’s calls for the removal of all foreign militias from the country as a step towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict that has hit the country since the fall of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011.

On the bilateral level, Shoukri said he agreed with Dendias on continuing political consultations between the two countries and efforts to enhance their economic and commercial cooperation, especially in the field of energy.

“This comes in the light of the two countries’ keenness to play a pivotal role in transporting energy via the Mediterranean in a way that achieves our joint interests with regard to energy security in our regional surroundings,” he said.

Dendias said Egypt and Greece were a bridge between Europe and the Arab world and between Europe and Africa, adding that the relations between the two countries were more than just a strategic partnership.

Cairo and Athens have strengthened their bilateral relations in recent years, including cooperation in developing energy resources, combating terrorism, and facing the illegal migration that has recently seen a surge as a result of the deteriorating situation in Libya.

In 2020, Egypt signed an agreement with Greece for the demarcation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the two countries.

On the trilateral level, Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus have cooperated in various economic fields including energy. Several trilateral summits have been held over the past few years to boost cooperation and coordination among the three states in various fields.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

Short link: