Libya’s illegal agreements

Ioannis Kotoulas
Thursday 13 Oct 2022

The signature of agreements by the outgoing Libyan Government of National Unity carving up the Mediterranean with Turkey are illegal under international law and the Libyan political process.


The signing of two Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) between Tripoli-based Abdel-Hamid Dbeibah’s Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU) and a delegation of Turkish ministers has met with criticism and voices of concern both in Libya and abroad concerning their international implications for the stability of the greater region. They include a series of preliminary economic agreements in the hydrocarbon and oil sectors.

Egypt and Greece have coordinated their actions on this matter, as the two countries share the same approach. According to a statement released by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Egypt and Greece have affirmed that the outgoing GNU, whose mandate in Tripoli has expired, is not authorised to sign any international agreements or MoUs.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias have responded to the situation in Libya in the context of the ongoing coordination between the two countries. On an international level, the US and the EU have both rejected the signing of the MoUs as an illegal action that breaches essential premises of international law and the Libyan political process. 

The agreements signed by the Tripoli-based GNU have also met with strong reactions in Libya itself and been rejected by the Libyan House of Representatives, given the legal end of the mandate of the GNU in December 2021.

The signing of the two MoUs follows another questionable initiative three years ago, when the authorities in Tripoli signed a maritime border deal in late 2019. The 2019 MoU delimitating maritime zones between Turkey and the Tripoli government, an illegal action under international law, was immediately rejected by all the Mediterranean states. Egypt and Greece regard the 2019 agreement, upon which the new energy deals are based, as being not only illegal and unfounded, but also as potentially violating their economic rights in the Mediterranean.

It is essential to reassert the basic principles of geography and of policies of good neighbourhood. Libya’s most important neighbour and future partner is Egypt, the natural hegemonic power in the Arab world that can guarantee the stability and prosperity of Libya in the near future.

Egyptian diplomacy has already laid the foundations for a viable future in the greater region. Libya’s longest maritime borders are with its neighbour Greece, an essential partner for Libya that can guarantee EU financial assistance. Egypt and Greece, thanks to their multiple memberships of international organisations, can greatly assist the development of Libya. Egypt as a member of the Arab League and the African Union and as a state representing the interests of both the Arab world and Africa is essential for Libya’s progress. Greece can help with EU assistance on many levels.

Egypt and Greece work closely together and in unison on a variety of issues. This coordination extends to the fundamental issue of international legitimacy and the delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Egypt and Greece signed an EEZ deal in 2020, which has proven to be of the utmost importance in protecting the national interests of both countries and for stability in the region. It is a partial demarcation agreement that will need to be completed by a full agreement when the time is right.

Trilateral contacts on the issue of EEZ delimitation between Egypt, Libya, and Greece would be a huge step forward that would eradicate all zones of ambiguity. In the near future, Egypt, Libya and Greece could sign an agreement for the full delimitation of their national EEZs accompanied by a mechanism for EU assistance. Most importantly, the signing of full EEZ deals between these three countries based on international law would benefit stability in the region, overcome external interference, and allow all three to proceed with economic exploration and the exploitation of available energy reserves in their respective EEZs. 

If all the parties agree, Egypt could host an initial trilateral meeting to examine such prospects. Great things have modest beginnings, and a bold diplomatic initiative would be of great benefit to all. The Mediterranean is our joint geopolitical space, and energy cooperation for all of us is a primary foreign policy goal. 

* The writer is a lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens in Greece.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

Short link: