Warnings on Libya and Sudan

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 6 Jul 2022

Concerns are rising that the fallout from political instability in Libya and Sudan could spill over Egypt’s western and southern borders.

Warnings on Libya and Sudan
Sudanese took to the streets demanding political reform


It has been a week of increasing protests in Libya and Sudan, with large demonstrations in both countries protesting against declining services, poor living conditions, political mismanagement, and other political and social ailments.

The demonstrations have come as no surprise to Cairo, which has been keeping a close watch on, and often enough has been involved in managing the political disputes of, its Arab and African neighbours.

“We have been anticipating the tension in Libya to increase for quite some time, and we have been trying to push for a reasonable deal to end it, but the parties in Libya have failed to cooperate sufficiently,” said one informed Egyptian government source.

He added that Cairo had tried to encourage the Tripoli-based government of Abdel-Hamid Dbeibah, elected in February last year, to take steps towards greater political inclusiveness. It had also offered support to the parallel government of Fatehi Bashaghah appointed in February this year by the Tobrok-based Libyan House of Representatives.

“But neither managed to live up to the challenge of taking Libya onto a track of political stability,” the source said.

In press statements made this week, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said that Egypt was doing all it could to avert the resumption of military hostilities in Libya. According to the informed Egyptian government source, there have been several high-level calls over the past couple of weeks with Libyan political and military leaders to encourage détente.

However, he added, there has not been much of a positive response. It seems, he argued, that the country’s political leaders are not able to move towards making the necessary compromises.

Increasingly, the same source said, Libya’s political and military leaders seem to be more focused on their own constituencies than on the need to reach a deal that could end the problems of the country as a whole.

The current situation might be working for the time being, but it could not work for long, he added. Eventually, the Libyan leaders would have to find a way to resolve the basic problems the Libyan people are complaining about, including long power cuts.

According to the source, the position of “some of the political leaders” who insist that the country’s new constitution should include an article forbidding the nomination of military leaders or political leaders with military backgrounds to high positions will likely continue to block the work of the drafting committee.

Khalifa Haftar, the powerful military leader in the east of Libya and previously a close ally of Egypt’s, has insisted that this article should be eliminated.

Meanwhile, political leaders in the south of Libya, who have not been vocally involved in the squabbles that the country has been going through for the last ten years, have recently been indicating an intention to take the destiny of this part of the country into their own hands.

This is not the kind of news that Haftar would want to hear, because he has been proclaiming himself as the strong man of both the east and the south of Libya. According to informed diplomatic sources in Cairo, Haftar’s sway in the south of the country is already suffering a considerable decline.

Against the backdrop of growing tensions, Dbeibah, who has been losing international support, tried on Monday to accommodate the public anger.

He acknowledged that his government had not done enough to improve the poor quality of public services, especially electricity, and he promised to attend to the matter. He also committed himself to continue to work to secure Libya’s overdue legislative and presidential elections.

However, the demonstrations have continued, and according to the Egyptian government source, the “Libyan street is fed up” with the country’s current crop of leaders. The time might be ripe for new ones to enter the political scene, he said, adding that this might not be an easy target to deliver.

“The fact of the matter is that any new leader in Libya will have to have some regional and international support, and today there is no agreement among the regional and international players on the path that Libya should take to get out of its present misery. Everybody is talking about the need to have parliamentary and presidential elections, but there is no agreement on how to get there,” he said.

In Sudan, the political disarray has also been increasing, with confrontations between demonstrators and the security forces in the country this week leaving nine protesters dead and many others wounded.

The civilian forces in the country are blaming the leaders of the armed forces and Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) for compromising on, following measures taken by Sudan’s top military leader Abdel-Fattah Al-Borhan in October last year and supported by leader of the RSF Mohamed Dagalo, better known as Hemedti.

Cairo has offered political support to Al-Borhan since he became chair of the Transitional Military Council that runs Sudan after the ouster of the former Omar Al-Bashir regime in 2019.

Over the past few months, Cairo has been getting increasingly worried about Al-Borhan’s chances of fixing the situation in the country, however. Some official sources in Cairo have been worried that Al-Borhan might need to reconsider his political plans if he is to spare the country from chaos, especially after a recent show of anger in the international community that suspended a promise to scrap the country’s foreign debts amounting to $64 billion.

The same official sources say that Cairo is not reassured about Al-Borhan’s ability to manage the differences between the top generals of the armed forces and those in the RSF. While they exclude for now any chance of internal military squabbling, they say that nobody can predict how the situation could develop if Al-Borhan were to fail to find a formula to fix this problem or reach a political deal with the country’s civilian forces.

“This will not be easy, especially since the civilian forces disagree among themselves and the [conflicting] military leaders receive support from conflicting regional players,” one of the official sources said. He added that the Trilateral Mechanism of the UN, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, was not working in harmony.

As the protests continued unabated on Monday, Al-Borhan said the army would allow for a civilian government and not take part in the political dialogue being facilitated by the trilateral committee.

In a televised statement, he said the armed forces “will not stand in the way” of the democratic transition in Sudan, adding that they were committed to holding elections to allow the Sudanese people to decide.

There was no immediate reaction to this statement in Cairo, with official sources saying it was keeping close watch on developments in Sudan. Al-Borhan has been a close ally of Egypt’s, and Egypt would still wish him to be part of the political equation in Sudan, the sources said.

They also agreed that Egypt had hoped Haftar to be a significant part of the political equation in Libya. But what counted most for Egypt, the sources said, was for neither country to fall into chaos or under the rule of hostile political forces.

Prolonged chaos in these two geographically sensitive neighbouring countries, the sources said, could make for a difficult security situation for Egypt.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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