Egypt has repeatedly said military intervention in Libya is a last option to defend national security.
In Cairo, the Turkish presence in Libya is viewed as a major threat to the security of the whole region, and especially to neighbouring countries such as Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan.
It is this threat that prompted parliament this week to unanimously approve the sending of troops on combat missions outside Egypt’s borders in reaction to the Turkish-backed Libyan Government of National Accord’s (GNA) manoeuvering to capture the key coastal city of Sirte.
MPs’ approval came days after Libyan tribal leaders called on Egypt to intervene to protect the national security of Libya and Egypt. Even the Libyan parliament called on Egypt to directly intervene in the country’s conflict to protect the national security of Libya and Egypt if they see an imminent danger to both countries.
Ali Al-Hefni, a former deputy to Egypt’s foreign minister, says the vast majority of states in the region understand and support Cairo’s repeated attempts to bring the warring factions to the negotiating table and preserve the unity of the Libyan state.
“That was reflected last month in the Cairo Declaration’s roadmap to a ceasefire and a settlement that includes all forces except the terrorist groups and militias,” Al-Hefni told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Political science professor Tarek Fahmi says the Egyptian approach has always been to promote a political resolution of the crisis.
“That was reflected last month in the Cairo Declaration that reasserted the basis for resolving the crisis in Libya according to a defined political and strategic mechanism and according to the outcomes of the Berlin Conference. In the meantime, Egypt is ready for all options, settlement, confrontation and escalation, based on what happens in Sirte,” says Fahmi.
Algeria, too, is prompted by national security, a fear of Turkish expansion in the region and concern about growing Muslim Brotherhood influence in the Maghreb. One problem though, says Fahmi, is that Turkey is the biggest investor in both Algeria and Tunisia, the two countries that, like Egypt, are directly affected by developments in Libya.
Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune this week declared that his country was cooperating with Tunisia in an attempt to forge a new initiative to resolve the crisis in Libya. Tebboune appealed to all parties involved in Libya to talk in order to reach a peaceful political solution that preserves Libya’s unity “away from any foreign intervention”.
Algeria is also considering constitutional amendments that will allow the army to act beyond Algeria’s borders in defence of national security. Meanwhile, Ankara has been attempting to pressure the Algerian authorities to accept Turkey’s military presence in Libya.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have supported Egypt’s attempts to protect its borders. Both states have also backed forces based in eastern Libya, especially after Turkey began increasing its military presence in Libya.
Last week, Saudi Arabia reiterated its support for a political solution in Libya. In a phone call between Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan both ministers stressed the importance of reaching a comprehensive settlement to the Libyan crisis that preserves the country’s territorial integrity.
The two top officials also highlighted the enormous challenges that face the region and require greater mutual coordination, especially in light of foreign interference in the affairs of a number of Arab countries.
The Arab League (AL) has also reiterated its support for a political solution. In an interview with the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA), AL Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit rejected “illegal Turkish intervention” in Arab countries, and described Ankara’s military operations in Libya as a threat to Arab national security.
He pointed out that the Cairo Declaration outlined a roadmap for settling the Libyan conflict through mechanisms dealing with the military, security, political, and economic aspects of the crisis.
The AL, says Al-Hefni, has shown strong support for Cairo’s position which is based on reaching a political settlement, and rejecting foreign intervention “to avert what happened in Iraq and Syria”.
The AL and regional powers agree that resort to a military option is likely to be costly, including in terms of lives.
Despite the fact the majority of regional parties seek a solution in Libya, Fahmi expects the next few weeks will see further escalation on the part of Turkey. Ankara rejects any political solution and is banking instead on the terrorist militias it supports in Libya, and the mercenaries that it pays.
Fahmi does not rule out an open-ended scenario should Turkey refuse to withdraw from Libya.
“Any political settlement needs coordination between the concerned parties and must involve the two main players in Libya, as well as the UN. Without pressure from an international body, Libya will remain divided between east and west,” he says.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly