On 27 December a delegation of the Egyptian National Committee on Libya arrived in Tripoli. Delegation members met with officials from the Government of National Accord (GNA) and representatives of key players in western Libyan.
The goal was to bolster Egyptian support for all parties in Libya and help them reach a comprehensive political settlement and avoid extending a status quo that allows for further foreign interference and threatens the unity of the country.
Although this was the first trip by a senior delegation in several years, it followed a 4 April 2017 visit by the Chairman of the Egyptian Petroleum Corporation Abed Abdel-Aal to Tripoli where he met with officials from the GNA and the board of the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC). The visit came a week after a trip by General Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s chief of General Intelligence, to Benghazi where he met with the commander of the Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and Libyan Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh. Kamel confirmed Egypt’s full support for efforts to reach a comprehensive political settlement, and its rejection of any escalation that threatens Libya’s unity and allows for further foreign interference.
Although Cairo did not officially comment or issue a statement on the delegation’s trip to Tripoli the visit came at a critical time in the global community’s push towards a settlement. A political settlement is something Cairo has been urging, especially since the UN-sponsored negotiating track has faltered despite progress on the military track. Military operations ended after a permanent ceasefire agreement between the two sides of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission was signed in Geneva on 23 October 2020. The road to a truce was paved by the Hurghada negotiations in late September 2020.
The Egyptian delegation in Tripoli met with GNA Foreign Minister Mohamed Al-Taher Siala, Deputy Chairman of the GNA Presidential Council Ahmed Maitiq, GNA Minister of Interior Fathi Bachagha, and Deputy Chief of Intelligence Emad Al-Trabelsi. These officials represent all active political and social forces in Tripoli, Misrata, and Zintan.
Egyptian officials’ discussions with the GNA focused on bolstering and developing bilateral economic and security relations between Cairo and Tripoli. The GNA Foreign Ministry stated that during the meeting with Siala the Egyptian delegation agreed to improve all forms of cooperation between the two countries, including resuming flights from Libya to Egypt, scheduling meetings for experts from both sides, and reopening the Egyptian embassy as soon as possible. Maitiq said his talks with the Egyptian delegation confirmed the need for joint coordination to implement economic and security agreements already signed by the two sides.
Bachagha said the meeting with the Egyptian delegation, also attended by Al-Trabelsi, came as part of his ministry’s security policy that “aims to consolidate cooperation with brotherly and friendly countries and highlights the importance of joint action between Cairo and Tripoli”. Discussions included “joint security challenges, ways to bolster security cooperation between the two brotherly nations”, ways of supporting the ceasefire agreement, and the outcomes of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission to “support UN efforts in political dialogue and ending the current crisis through political and peaceful means”.
Bachagha described the delegation’s meetings in Tripoli as “fruitful and constructive”, and said he looked forward to bolstering relations with Cairo: “Libya will be a point of agreement and convergence; not conflict and divergence,” he insisted.
The statement referenced his desire for a greater pivot towards Egypt which he visited a few weeks ago in the hope of securing support: Bachaga is a key candidate for prime minister and head of the cabinet that is expected to emerge from the political dialogue forum which began in November under UN auspices.
The visit by the Egyptian delegation was welcomed by all parties in western Libya who called on Cairo to resume operations at the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli, which they describe as an important gesture for Libyans.
An Egyptian official in Cairo described the trip as “exceptional” and said the delegation had been “warmly welcomed” by officials in Tripoli. The visit is a practical translation of Egypt’s progressive positions regarding the Libyan crisis, and its pioneering efforts to support a settlement there. Cairo has always insisted on its neighbour’s unity and sovereignty and supported Libyan security and national institutions in order to foster national reconciliation among Libyans, reject foreign interference, and form a strong government capable of taking control of the country and protecting it resources in the interest of the Libyan people. A strong government can also forcefully confront radical terrorist groups and movements.
Egypt paved the way for the permanent ceasefire agreement by hosting meetings of security and military delegations from East and West Libya in Hurghada in late September which resulted in a six-point agreement that facilitated travel and movement between Libyan cities, prisoner exchanges, and the holding of meetings of the 5+5 Commission, steps that were implemented even before a truce was signed in Geneva.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.