Egypt’s parliament on Monday unanimously approved the deployment of armed forces abroad to defend Egypt’s national security, it said in a statement, amid the expansion of Libya’s Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) which has moved fighters to capture the key coastal city of Sirte.
In an official statement following a closed-door session, the parliament said it "unanimously approved sending elements of the Egyptian armed forces in combat missions outside the borders of the Egyptian state to defend the Egyptian national security in the western strategic front against the acts of criminal militias and foreign terrorist elements until the forces' mission ends."
The decision came days after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said Egypt “will not stand idle” in the face of any attack on Sirte, which he earlier described as a “red line” for Egypt’s national security and warned it could prompt military intervention by Cairo.
"The Egyptian nation, throughout history, has advocated for peace, but it does not accept trespasses nor does it renounce its rights. Egypt is extremely able to defend itself, its interests, its brothers and neighbours from any peril or threat," the statement said.
"The armed forces and its leadership have the constitutional and legal licence to determine when and where to respond to these dangers and threats," it added.
Major General Mamdouh Shaheen, assistant minister of defence during the session
The MPs on Monday supported the military’s efforts to maintain the national, Arab and regional fundamentals, the statement said, adding that "neither has the [Egyptian] people let the army down, nor the army ever let the people down.
The parliament reviewed the outcomes of a meeting on Sunday of the country's National Defence Council (NDC) headed by El-Sisi, which discussed threats to Egypt's western front.
The NDC said in a statement following the meeting that Egypt seeks to stabilise the current situation and ensure the declared lines of the Libyan cities of Sirte and Al-Jafra are not crossed to achieve peace between all Libyan parties.
The closed-door session was attended by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Alaa Fouad and Major General Mamdouh Shaheen, assistant minister of defence.
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal only allowed MPs and the prime minister to attend the plenary meeting, and ordered photographers, guards and staff to leave the meeting hall, and MPs to close their mobile phones. Abdel-Aal also urged MPs not to divulge the content of the meeting.
Monday’s mandate comes a few days after El-Sisi met with Libyan tribal leaders in Cairo, where they called on the Egyptian Armed Forces “to intervene to protect the national security of Libya and Egypt.”
Tagammu Party Head Sayed Abdel-Aal puts forward his opinion prior to taking the final vote
The central city of Sirte and the Jufra military airbase are currently controlled by the eastern-based forces of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by military commander Khalifa Haftar, which have retreated eastward after a series of gains by the government in Tripoli last month.
President El-Sisi has said he would take military action in Libya after securing the approval of the Egyptian parliament.
Under Egypt’s constitution, the president, who is the supreme commander of the Armed Forces, shall not declare war or deploy troops outside the country without seeking the opinion of the National Defence Council and the approval of a two-thirds majority of MPs.
Diaa el-Din Dawood, a leader of the parliamentary leftist 25-30 bloc expressing his opinion during the session
The eastern parliament called on Egypt last week to directly intervene in the country’s conflict to counter what it termed a Turkish “occupation.”
Egypt, the UAE and Russia are backing Haftar in eastern Libya, while Turkey and Qatar support the Tripoli-based GNA.
The GNA, with the support of Turkey, recently extended control across most of the territories held by the LNA in northwest Libya, repelling a 14-month offensive by Haftar’s forces to capture Tripoli, and forcing them to pull back east towards Sirte. It vowed to advance to capture Sirte and the inland Al-Jufra airbase.
Turkey began earlier this year to bring thousands of mercenaries from Syria into Libya to bolster the GNA government.
Al-Wafd Party Head Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, the current chairperson of parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee during the closed-door meeting
The latest tensions come one month after El-Sisi had warned that Cairo has a legitimate right to intervene in the neighbouring country, and stressed that the frontline of Sirte and Al-Jufra is “a red line” for Egyptian national security.
He said any Egyptian intervention in the neighbouring country would aim to preserve the national security of Egypt, Libya and the region, securing Egypt’s western border and restoring stability in Libya.
Members of Parliament voting on granting the Egyptian armed forces constitutional and legal the license to send troops abroad to defend Egypt’s national security
*Menna Alaa El-Din contributed to this story