Egyptian-Libyan relations: Neighbourhood watch

Ahmed Eleiba , Wednesday 23 Jun 2021

The visit to Libya of Abbas Kamel, director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, underscored Cairo’s unwavering support of the Libyan people

Neighbourhood watch
Kamel was shown around the historic old town

Egyptian General Intelligence Service Director Abbas Kamel visited Tripoli on 17 June to meet with senior Libyan officials, including Chairman of the Presidency Council Mohamed Al-Manfi and Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU) Abdel-Hamid Al-Debeibah. Following the meetings, Kamel was shown around the historic old town. The visiting Egyptian official was “warmly welcomed at both the popular and official levels,” a highly placed Libyan source told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Although some arrangements had been made in advance for the open tour, it was characterised by a spontaneity that reflected “the nature of the current moment in Libyan relations with Egypt as a sister country of the Libyan people”. The source added that the time when Libyans felt that Egypt’s focus was on the east of their country is now over. Egypt, he said, had played a central role in overcoming the acute polarisation that had divided Libya, and its support of the Libyan political process was highly regarded.

During the open tour, it was remarkable how many Libyans were eager to present gifts to the visiting delegation, the source said. “It was an expression of their strong sense of a bond with Egypt. One merchant presented a locally made carpet over a century and a half old as a symbol of the historical dimension of Egyptian-Libyan relations.”

The Libyan prime minister was pleased to see the impact of the tour. He felt that it was only right for Egypt, as the largest Arab state and a regional power, to have such a presence in Tripoli.

One of Kamel’s aims in Libya was to convey the support of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for the Libyan people and their government, and Egypt’s desire to strengthen cooperation between the two countries to help ensure the progress of the Libyan political process and efforts to restore stability in the country. Kamel stressed the need to boost efforts to unify the Libyan military establishment. In this context, he praised the role played by the Libyan Joint Military Committee, known as the 5+5 JMC, in promoting confidence-building measures to help sustain a lasting ceasefire. More generally, he underscored the importance of current efforts to promote Libyan national reconciliation, which he described as a pillar of stability.

President Al-Sisi also appealed to the Libyan institutions involved in preparing for the national elections in December to perform their patriotic duty. He stressed that Cairo fully supports Libyan efforts to hold elections.

Al-Manfi also expressed his pleasure at the Egyptian delegation’s visit, welcoming the messages it conveyed in the interest of strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation.

The friendly atmosphere surrounding the Egyptian visit contrasted sharply with the stiff atmosphere surrounding the visit of a high-level Turkish delegation. Needless to say, there were no tours to meet with the Libyan people.

Instead, there was a visit to a military base in Mitiga, although it was difficult to see who was visiting who in this case. Libyan Chief of Staff Mohamed Al-Haddad came under harsh criticism after a photo went viral showing him having to display a visitor’s permit in order to enter a military base in his own country. The majority of members of the Libyan House of Representatives were outraged. Turkey has been particularly obstructive on the question of foreign fighters and mercenaries. While Egypt, together with other international and regional powers, has been working to support the efforts of the 5+5 JMC to rid Libya of foreign mercenaries in order to safeguard the ceasefire that came into effect in October, Turkey has introduced more mercenaries into the country.

Kamel’s visit came in the framework of Egyptian support for the second Berlin Conference on Libya which began this week. After the visit, Libyan Foreign Minister Najlah Al-Manqoush travelled to Cairo where she met with President Al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. During the meeting, Al-Sisi said: “Egypt offers its full support to Libya and the Libyan people. Egypt and Libya share a single national security. We hope that the current rectified political process concludes with free elections that reflect the will of the Libyan people free from militias and armed groups. Egypt’s position has always been firm and clear. Egypt has always affirmed the necessity of Libyan territorial integrity and non-interference in Libyan affairs.”

Al-Manqoush expressed her pleasure at Egypt’s concern for Libya and its reaffirmation of Libya’s territorial integrity. Addressing the president, she added: “We are all proud of the role Egypt has played in Libya. Egypt has a historic position that we salute. We value President Al-Sisi’s wisdom and leadership. We are counting on Egyptian-Libyan security cooperation and we hope that Egypt will play an effective role in unifying the Libyan military establishment.”

The unification of the Libyan military establishment within the 5+5 JMC framework was also a subject of Kamel’s talks in Benghazi, which he visited after Tripoli. In his meeting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Kamel underscored Egypt’s support for the Libyan people at the military and political levels. He conveyed President Al-Sisi’s praise for the LNA’s efforts to achieve domestic stability and fight terrorism, and for the military establishment’s vital role in safeguarding the welfare and resources of the Libyan people. Kamel also met with Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh and other members of the Libyan parliament.

A number of Egyptian officials have visited Tripoli since the new GNU received the Libyan House of Representatives’ vote of confidence in March. Of particular significance was Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli’s visit in April at the head of a delegation of 11 ministers. Soon afterwards, Egypt appointed a charge d’affairs to the newly reopened Egyptian embassy in Tripoli. It hopes to send an ambassador soon. The charge d’affairs of the Libyan Embassy in Cairo was upgraded to Tripoli’s permanent ambassador to Egypt during Al-Manqoush’s recent visit.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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