Egypt's Sisi has no business drawing 'red lines' in Libya

Egypt's Sisi has no business drawing 'red lines' in Libya
Comment: Egypt's undemocratic aims and interference in Libya are unwelcome, writes Ahmed Sewehli.
5 min read
26 Jun, 2020
Libyans protest interference from UAE, France and Egypt [Getty]
Since February 2014 it has been obvious that Khalifa Haftar wanted to become the new dictator of Libya. There was no way that he could hide it when on Al Arabiya TV, he declared that the constitutional declaration was void, with a big map of Libya behind him. There was only one government and one parliament in Libya at the time.

Later, it became clear that as well as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Sisi's Egypt and France also supported his actions. All these countries were theoretically on board with the Libyan Political Agreement, signed by the delegation of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, and delegation of the General National Congress in Skhirat, in December 2015. That agreement had resulted in the Government of National Accord, under the leadership of Fayez Sarraj.

The ambassadors of UAE, Egypt and France were in Skhirat throughout the process, and when the agreement was signed. As a result, these countries - even now - say they recognise this government.

However while they may continue to officially recognise the GNA, they set about destabilizing it, using political, diplomatic and military means. They fully supported Haftar taking control of the east of Libya, during which he committed atrocities in Benghazi and  Derna.

In fact, Egypt conducted airstrikes on Derna in 2015 and 2017, killing dozens of women and children. Their excuse of targeting Islamic State (IS) militants who executed Egyptian nationals holds no water, given Egypt took no part whatsoever in the war against thousands of IS militants in Sirte in 2015-16, and nor did Haftar, the UAE or France.

While they may continue to officially recognise the GNA, they set about destabilizing it, using political, diplomatic and military means

Egypt's air bases, including Sidi Barrani Air Base near the Libyan border, have been used not only by the Egyptian military to conduct such attacks, but also by UAE military planes transporting weapon supplies to Haftar. Cairo is also now home to many Gaddafists, including Gaddafi's billionaire cousin, Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam. They are quite active and vocal in their opposition to the Tripoli government, and Gaddaf al-Dam has made his support for Haftar and his power grab public.

Egyptian TV constantly airs anti-Libyan government propaganda, with famous commentators even suggesting that large parts of Libya actually belong to Egypt. Haftar has been to Cairo numerous times, visiting twice within one month of the launch of his attack on Tripoli.

Russia, already with its finger in the now complicated Libyan pie, sneaked in with its Wagner mercenaries and military equipment during the Tripoli war last year, seemingly with Egyptian and Emirati coordination, and even French acquiescence. It was this intervention, along with hundreds of UAE drone strikes, which pushed Haftar into southern Tripoli, truly terrorising the two million strong population of the capital.

This pushed the Libyan government to seek military assistance from Turkey. In January 2020, the tide began to turn, but at the expense of hundreds of civilian casualties from Haftar's Wagner group missiles over the following months. A definitive end to the shelling only came when GNA forces finally pushed Haftar forces out of Tripoli with Turkish military assistance.

Unfortunately the news of death continues, even though there is no fighting on the battlefield: Innocent civilians are being killed or wounded to this day by the thousands of IEDs planted in civilians' homes in southern Tripoli. Families are still trying to identify the remains of their loved ones - including women and children - who were kidnapped and buried in mass graves in Tarhuna.

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After the defeat of Haftar's UAE, Egypt, France and Saudi backed militias, and Wagner mercenaries in western Libya, Haftar and Sisi announced their unilateral peace initiative on the 6 June. 

Sisi declared "there can be no stability in Libya unless peaceful means to end the crisis are found". He called for the exit of all foreign fighters. Just two weeks later, he contradicted himself by threatening to invade Libya and militarily train "tribes". So much for "peaceful means" and wanting foreign fighters to leave.

Egypt's threat of invasion is only a verbal escalation of six years of military interference in Libya, and attempts by Egypt's foreign minister to try and water down Sisi's blatant warmongering comments just don't wash.

Libyan politicians, commentators and the general public are furious with the Egyptian regime, and Libyan social media is flooded with people saying they will continue to protect their homeland from attack, as they have done for the past six years. That is a natural reaction, for it is Egypt which poses a threat to Libya's national security.

The Libyan government in Tripoli and its forces have proved that they, more than anybody, are ready to fight terrorism, having expelled IS from Libya in 2016, and kept them away. Sisi and the Egyptian military on the other hand, have been incapable of securing and stabilising Sinai, one thirtieth the size of Libya.

It is not for Sisi to be drawing 'red lines' a thousand kilometres inside a neighbouring country

At Sisi's request, The Arab League held a meeting on Tuesday 24 June. And in spite of concerns raised by Libya's permanent representative (Libya's foreign minister refused to participate in protest), the Arab League passed a motion welcoming Egypt and Haftar's peace proposal. There was no mention in the League's statement of Sisi's threat of invasion.

It is clear then, that the Arab League has become a tool for hindering democratic change in the Arab world and is controlled by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. After this meeting many Libyans called for the GNA to withdraw from the League indefinitely.

Egypt may be willing to do the UAE's dirty work, but the fact that it is therefore siding with a Russian presence in Libya is something that may cause the US, and Europe minus France to object to further Egyptian intervention.

The presence of the Turkish military alongside Libyan government forces, and the destruction of Russian military equipment, must also be on Sisi's mind. Whatever the case may be, it is not for Sisi to be drawing "red lines" a thousand kilometres inside a neighbouring country. Or even one kilometre for that matter.

Ahmed Sewehli is a UK based psychiatrist who co-founded Misrata's mental health service. He has been advocating for freedom and democracy in Libya since the 2011 revolution. He has appeared on BBC TV and Radio, TRT World, ABC Australia, Aljazeera and Channel 4 News. 

Follow him on Twitter: @LibyanIntegrity

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.