The parameters of Egyptian involvement in the Libyan crisis have been clear since President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s address to the armed forces in the Western Military Zone on 20 June. Underlining that these parameters are informed by the need to defend Egypt’s national security, he identified a “red line” from Sirte to Al-Jafra as the boundaries of Egypt’s vital sphere. He instructed Egypt’s troops to be prepared for “military action abroad” in the event of a hostile action intended to breach that sphere. In keeping with this outlook, the Jarbub Airbase was inaugurated in the Western Zone, qualitative military drills were held to focus on potential threats emanating from the West and, just last week, the Hasm (Resolve) 2020 land and maritime manoeuvres were carried out near the Libyan border to demonstrate Egypt’s readiness to take on a potential advance of the Turkish-backed terrorist and mercenary militias in Libya into Egypt’s vital sphere.
Egypt’s concept of “calibrated involvement” in Libya reflects its awareness of the magnitude of the threat in Libya and the intricate dynamics of that crisis which has been exacerbated by attempts on the part of regional powers such as Turkey to exploit it. Turkey’s tactical aim in Libya is to engineer a shift in the balances of power on the ground and to restructure Libyan political/military dynamics in a manner overtly hostile to Egypt. If Turkey instructs its mercenaries and militias to breach the red line, Egypt will be forced to act and its actions will unquestionably fall within the exercise of its right to self-defence which is a primary tenet of Egypt’s defence creed and strategy.
Despite the multiple lines of engagement in the Libyan conflict, Egypt has remained determined from the outset to propel the stakeholders towards a political process leading to a transitional phase that would enable the restoration of stability to our neighbour. This is why Egypt sponsored the “Cairo Declaration”, an initiative to promote a return to the negotiating table, welcomed by a majority of the international community as an important contribution to the Berlin Process. Unfortunately, certain regional powers are working to sabotage the prospects of negotiations. Turkey, in particular, is bent on reproducing the current Government of National Accord (GNA) entity, which is a mutation from the consensual transitional body intended by the Skhirat Agreement, into an Ankara puppet.
Not only is Cairo disinclined to offensive strategies and military options, it continues to work to strike a balance between the need to take necessary precautions against precipitous belligerent powers working to complicate the Libyan situation and the need to focus on advancing the agreed upon political process despite all counterproductive parties. Egypt’s military preparations still remain within its own borders, even if it has had to address certain targets abroad in the framework of a limited strike that did not constitute a military offensive in the proper sense and that clearly fell under the heading of self-defence. Egypt will not intervene militarily in Libya outside this framework, as President Al-Sisi stressed when discussing Egyptian military creed in his speech in the Western Zone. Egypt’s army is a “sensible” army, Al-Sisi said.
Ankara’s behaviour, on the other hand, remains inexplicably contradictory. On the one hand, it calls for an end to mercenaries in Libya and commits to this principle in Berlin. On the other, it trains mercenaries from Syria and sends them into Libya by the plane load. The number of mercenaries in Libya on the Turkish payroll now exceed 15,000 and they together with GNA militias have been transformed into the Libyan equivalent of the Turkish-backed “Free Syrian Army” (now Ankara’s proxy “Syrian National Army”) which is advancing Turkey’s territorial and political aims in Syria. Turkey, itself, now operates out of three military bases in western Libya (Watiya, Matiga and Misrata) and it has set its sights on occupying Ghardabiya and Al-Jafra bases and the petroleum facilities in Sirte. Contrary to its pledge in Berlin, Turkey continues its flagrant violation of the UN arms embargo to Libya and its justification could not rest on a flimsier pretext. It claims to be supporting the internationally recognised GNA whereas the House of Representatives is the only popularly elected governing body and the only body authorised to ratify agreements with foreign powers. But Ankara has an agenda and, in Libya, it is to secure control over Libyan oil behind a GNA facade in order to revive the Turkish economy and to fund the Libyan militias in order to advance Ankara’s hegemonic aims abroad.
Unlike Turkey, Egypt will not embark on an offensive war that would further aggravate the situation in Libya. This is consistent with its long-held policy of avoiding involvement in similar regional conflicts that have caused the collapse of states and killed and displaced millions. Therefore, Egypt will continue to work with other peace-seeking nations towards the realisation of political solutions. At the same time, it reserves its right to intervene in Libya in the defence of Egypt’s national security. Egypt’s national security is non-negotiable and Egypt will never compromise it in backroom deals or sacrifice it to material and megalomaniac ambitions, unlike certain other parties.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly