Resolving regional conflicts: ‘For future generations’

Ahmed Eleiba , Wednesday 15 Feb 2023

Egyptian diplomats are leading the charge to resolve regional conflicts.

photo: AP
From Lright: President Al-Sisi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King-Abdullah II of Jordan, and Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, during a conference to support Jerusalem at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo (photo: AP)


Last week Cairo hosted a Libyan Joint Military Commission (JMC 5+5) meeting, a Sudanese National Dialogue workshop, an Arab League conference in support of Jerusalem, and meetings between Palestinian factions Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Observers say the gatherings underscore Egypt’s central role in managing and helping to resolve the multifaceted and interwoven crises afflicting the Middle East. Many have noted that Cairo is well positioned to achieve breakthroughs in the conflicts that are impacting its neighbours, and is determined to do so because they have a direct bearing on Egypt’s national security and vital interests.

The JMC meeting, jointly sponsored by Cairo and the UN Special Representative for Libya Abdoulaye Bathily, was attended by representatives from Libya’s southern neighbours Sudan, Chad, and Niger.

It focused on the situation in southern Libya. According to reports, participants agreed to form a mechanism to facilitate the exchange of information and coordination — particularly on foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya — between the participant states (Egypt, Libya, Chad, Sudan, and Niger) and the UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). The aim of the mechanism is to promote stability in southern Libya which has experienced numerous clashes and other problems.

Rebels opposed to the regime in Chad and Sudanese opposition factions have established bases in southern Libya. There are also large numbers of refugees from Darfur, and operatives from the Islamic State are known to be active in the area. Amid these overlapping problems, there is also the issue of illegal migration and human trafficking.

Reports suggest that the Russian Wagner group is increasingly active, allegedly training Chadian rebels while Washington supports the interim government in Chad. Wagner is also thought to be using southern Libya as a base for activities in Mali where the interim government appears to be developing closer relations with Moscow. Western powers fear a shift in sub-Saharan Africa in favour of Russia, especially after the French withdrew from Mali and other francophone countries.

Sources in eastern Libya told Al-Ahram Weekly that the US appears to be warming to the Libyan National Army (LNA). In mid-January, CIA Director William Burns made an unannounced visit to Libya where, after meeting with the head of the Government of National Unity (GNU) Abdul-Hamid Dbeibeh in Tripoli, he travelled to Benghazi to meet LNA Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

A delegation from US African Command (AFRICOM) followed suit. According to sources, southern Libya is becoming an area of cooperation between Haftar and Washington, which will extend southward into Chad and Niger and eastward into Darfur.  

The JMC meeting in Cairo afforded an opportunity for Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to meet with UN Special Representative Bathily. According to sources in Cairo, discussions between the two officials reflected the closeness of their outlooks on the current challenges in Libya. They say there was a “margin of consensus” on how to resolve the crisis, with both sides agreeing that there must be a unified executive authority in order to hold elections. Cairo has been working with political and social forces in Libya to address the problem of Libya’s current institutional bifurcation which, it says, begs questions not only about the procedural matters involved in holding elections, but also about guarantees for stability afterwards.  

The Sudanese National Dialogue workshop in Cairo between 2 and 7 February, attended by representatives of Sudanese political parties, political groups, and civil society organisations, attempted to iron out differences over the constitutional track.

The event was the result of a proposal made in January by Egypt’s Ambassador to Sudan Hani Salah to promote an urgent solution to the crisis that arose after the military withdrew from the dialogue and divisions wracked the dialogue’s main civilian participant, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Attendees succeeded in concluding a political consensus agreement as an important step towards a broader national dialogue aimed at producing a new roadmap to end the transitional period in Sudan. Ahead of the workshop, Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service Major General Abbas Kamel visited Sudan in early January to meet with the President of the Sovereignty Council Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, and representatives of Sudanese political forces (FFC, the Democratic Bloc, and the National Forces Bloc). According to sources in Cairo, despite the broad divergence in views, Egypt will continue its efforts to help the Sudanese bridge their differences.

While the Arab League’s conference to support Jerusalem was convened to shed light on the situation in the Holy City, in his address President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi drew attention to broader issues relating to the Palestinian cause. Outlining an unequivocal position on the situation in Jerusalem, he reaffirmed Egypt’s rejection of any Israeli measures to alter the historical and legal status quo of the city and its holy sites and stressed the need to respect and uphold Jordanian custodianship of all Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa Mosque.

He warned of the dire consequences of Israel persisting in actions that violate international law, including the expansion of settlements, the demolition of Palestinian homes, forced displacement, confiscation of Palestinian land, the systematic Judaisation of Jerusalem, the illegal storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other acts that escalate tensions, jeopardise security, obstruct the two-state solution and force the entire Middle East into a position of having to make tough and dangerous choices.

President Al-Sisi made a point of delivering messages to both the Palestinians and Israel. To the Palestinians he reaffirmed their cause as a priority for Egypt and the Arabs. It is an integral and inseparable part of the Arab consciousness and will remain so until the realisation of the Palestinian national project with the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, he said.

To Israel, he said: “The time has come to strengthen the culture of peace and coexistence; indeed, to promote integration among the peoples of the region, in accordance with a just and comprehensive context. Let us turn the page on pain for the sake of future Palestinian and Israeli generations.”

 Against the backdrop of rising tensions over Jerusalem, Egypt hosted Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials. The aim was to calm the situation in Gaza and prevent it from spinning out of control. While sources in Cairo anticipate intermittent skirmishes between the two sides, they do not expect the situation to spiral into a major confrontation, at least not at present. They stressed that maintaining calm requires not only restraint on the part of the Palestinians, but for Israel to rein in the extremist tendencies of its current government.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: