Events in the Eastern Mediterranean began to spiral dangerously when Turkey, undeterred by warnings against the dangers of its expansionist designs, moved to impose new game rules in Libya. In order to counter this danger, Russia has recently stepped up its political and military involvement there, despite US and European condemnations.
The steadily worsening situation in Libya is a direct result of the absence of a clear and viable political solution, which has given rein to militaristic solutions. Such a situation whetted the appetite of Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan who leapt on the opportunity to expand Turkish presence in the region, with sights set on grabbing oil and gas fields. Towards this end, Ankara entered into a strategic partnership with the Tripoli-based government which controls only a portion of Libya and is still locked in a political and military tug-of-war with the Libyan National Army and the legitimate and popularly elected parliament based in the east.
The Libyan Civil War gradually evolved into a proxy war between world powers, with NATO countries working behind the scenes to prevent Russia from gaining a foothold in the country, as was the case before the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. This increases the likelihood of escalation and of even more protracted warfare as occurred in Afghanistan and then in Syria where local players became mere tools in the hands of major powers while chronic conflict wrought untold attrition on these countries’ resources and capacities.
Since the outset of this year, Egypt has issued numerous statements condemning the threats posed by foreign military intervention in Libya. When the Turkish parliament approved a mandate authorising the transfer of Turkish troops to Libya in early January, Cairo condemned this “flagrant violation of the international principles of legitimacy and UN Security Council resolutions on Libya”. Following an illegitimate memorandum of understanding and military cooperation agreement between Ankara and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) on 27 November 2019, Egypt warned that any Turkish military intervention in Libya would disrupt stability in the Mediterranean and that Turkey would be fully to blame for this.
In his last telephone communication with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi reiterated Egypt’s firm and strategic stance on the Libyan crisis. He underscored, in particular, the need to re-establish the foundations of national governmental institutions and structures, to end the anarchy of the proliferation of criminal gangs and terrorist militias, to give the highest priority to the fight against terrorism and the realisation of stability and security, and to curtail illegitimate foreign interventions in Libyan affairs which threaten to aggravate the current situation and jeopardise the security and stability of the entire Middle East and the Mediterranean.
According to the statement issued by the Office of the Presidency, Al-Sisi and Macron agreed on the need to coordinate more closely on this matter. They also reaffirmed their determination to end the Libyan crisis by promoting a political solution that paves the way to the restoration of security and stability in Libya and, above all, by supporting UN efforts towards this end as well as the implementation of the outputs of the Berlin Process. The two heads of state also underscored their opposition to all foreign intervention in this matter.
Turkey’s extension of its ambitions to the Libyan theatre, the transfer of the Syrian scenario to Libya and Western silence in the face of the illegitimate alliance between Ankara and the GNA have severely set back efforts to reach a political settlement, fuelled the armed conflict and heightened tensions in the Mediterranean. There is a growing risk of broader and fiercer confrontations involving outside powers, and above all the major powers that have been steering the conflict behind the scenes.
Egypt was right to call for an end to foreign interventions and definitive action to ward off the ambitions of regional powers that have exploited the vacuum created by the lack of unified governmental institutions. Today, the Libyan state is on the verge of extinction as the spectre of partition looms, which would present a grave threat to regional security in the years to come.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly