Preventive Measure: Egypt's unilateral demarcation of maritime border with Libya

Ahmed Eleiba , Thursday 22 Dec 2022

Egypt has taken the initiative to unilaterally demarcate its western maritime border with Libya in a decision that was published in the Egyptian official state gazette last week.



The United Nations was also notified of the decision as a procedural step.

Egyptian sources involved with the Libyan situation unanimously agree that this step is a preventive measure in light of Libya’s instability.

In addition, it comes as a response to the actions of successive Libyan governments in Tripoli, which unilaterally, and without political legitimacy, demarcated Libyan maritime borders with Turkey in 2019, then took the decision to cooperate and partner in energy exploration with Ankara in 2022.

For its part, Turkey has commented on the Egyptian move by pointing out that the nine points identified in the Egyptian decision do not overlap with the Turkish continental shelf.

However, it called on both parties, the Egyptian and the Libyan, to conduct “negotiations concerning the operation of demarcating the common maritime borders according to international law.”

Cairo, which has not issued a response to the Turkish statement, believes Ankara bears some of the responsibility in pushing Libyan parties to take decisions involving border demarcation without observing the normal measures customary in such situations, taking advantage of unfavourable political and security conditions in Libya.

The recent statement by Turkey called for adhering to international law in maritime border demarcation negotiations, even though it failed to do the same in its own deal the Libyan party, which was met with not only opposition from Egypt, but international and regional opposition as well.

Cairo has not responded to the statements by Libyan Foreign Minister Najla El-Mangoush, who called on Egypt to negotiate with her government.

Sources in Cairo assert that Egypt is not against the negotiation process in principle, but it will not take this step before a legitimate Libyan government has been established.

Sources add that Cairo is moving within the sphere of national interests, which Libyan governments in Tripoli do not take seriously.

Moreover, the situation in Libya does not indicate that stability is around the corner, which justifies Cairo’s preventive stance of protecting and securing its interests.

A Libyan political source in Tripoli said that El-Mangoush’s statements do not reflect the current priorities of the Government of National Unity headed by Abdul Hamid Al-Dbeibeh.

The top priority of this government is to remain in the political arena for the longest time possible and, consequently, it takes into account that Cairo does not support its presence, the source said.

However, the source added that several other Libyan parties believe that Cairo has to negotiate with Libya regarding this issue as a natural measure in the future.

He clarified that these parties do not question Egypt’s intentions towards Libya and believe that its stance has its justifications, but at the same time believe the issue will be reconsidered when the situation in Libya stabilises.

In addition, Al-Dbeibeh’s government has rejected a suggestion from the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) that the Libyan natural gas be diverted to Egyptian liquefaction stations in Damietta and Edko.

Observers have interpreted this as a sign of Al-Dbeibeh government’s support for a Turkish project to compete with the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF).

Turkey aims for gas to be transported from Nigeria and Algeria – one of the biggest natural gas importers in Africa – via Libya and across the Mediterranean to Turkey, and from there to European Union countries.

In contrast, Cairo is viewed as having a pivotal role in the EMGF as a founder and as a centre for the liquefaction of natural gas, which is redirected to Europe.

The importance of the EMGF has increased in the light of the current energy crisis caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war and efforts by European countries to replace Russian gas.

Consequently, the demarcation of Egypt’s western maritime borders constitutes an added value to its role in the EMGF, and also in the form of economic gains if new natural gas fields are discovered. Thus, the next step for Egyptian decision-makers is to explore gas in this area.

Short link: