Turkey and Egypt on the Libyan Cross Roads
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Libya’s misfortune refuses to go away. The foreign and interventionist powers continue to back their proteges to sub serve their own regional geo-political and geo-economic interests in the Mediterranean North African nation. Egypt and Turkey are the two sides of the same coin but this time they are threatening to come face to face. Last week the Egyptian Parliament passed a resolution authorising President Sisi to deploy the Egyptian forces abroad specifically in its eastern neighbour Libya, in favour of its nearly decade old ally General Khalifa Haftar, which is witnessing a Turkish onslaught on the opposing side.

Egypt is a neighbouring power and has large number of Libyans living there as a several thousand of Egyptians work in the oil rich violence- splintered state. Developments in Libya directly impact on its own security and diaspora welfare and more importantly on its regional influence. President Sisi is ipso facto a role model for General Haftar as both hate the Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood, who are nurtured by President Erdogan as part of his foreign policy tools and personal and religio-political beliefs.

Muslim Brotherhood is an anathema in Cairo especially for General Sisi who has gone to any length to decimate their overt presence in the country after Morsi was deposed. He was supported by Saudi Arabia and UAE in this venture while Turkey and Qatar were the major benefactors of the Brotherhood. This, three years ago, led to a dangerous fall out and split among the GCC countries with disruption of diplomatic ties and consequent blockade of Qatar by the Quartet (Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt). It also came as a God sent opportunity for Turkey since it enabled it to quickly establish a military base in Qatar changing the power dynamic in the region. This had also led to the beginning of the real problem between Erdogan and Sisi even if they maintained some modicum of diplomacy.

Egypt as such has its hands full with the Nile dispute involving Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam and Sudan. It has continuously supported General Haftar in securing Libya for nearly a decade in which it has been supported by UAE, France, Russia and the vacillating UK and USA. Emboldened Haftar and his LNA (Libyan National Army) backed by Tobruk based government and House of Representatives wanted to eventually take over Tripoli and Western Libya by force. But it could not succeed for nearly a year since April 2019. Only the plight of the people worsened with indiscriminate bombings. On the other hand Italy, Turkey, Qatar and USA continued to support Serraj led and Government of National Accord (GNA) supported internationally recognised government. It is of course a matter of debate as to which representative government or parliament is legitimate as almost all have lost the public confidence and failed the Libyans. They are all surviving due to the external financial and military support in violation of UN sanctions.

Europeans extend support to their respective protégé to ensure supply of Libyan oil, stop African migration via Libya and contain export of radicalised militants. Russia and the regional powers do not want to be left behind to have a share in the geo-political pie and often are the cause of accentuated problems in this theatre of war. US has often vacillated and tried to play both sides but currently supports the Tripoli based government and seems to be providing tacit pat to Turkey.

When last April Tripoli was about to fall to Haftar forces the GNA requested Turkey to intervene? In accordance with the bilateral agreements Erdogan promptly intervened by deploying his military assets and drone power changing the course and of the Civil war and secured Tripoli while started moving eastwards to take control of Gadhafi’s birthplace, Sirte, strategic Al Jufra base and Sharara oil fields. That’s when Haftar rushed to Cairo to help counter Turkish power. For Turkey apart from a geo- political advantage the geo- economics of the Mediterranean maritime was a more rewarding proposition as apart from ensuring its own oil gas supplies it would be able to block the proposed East med Gas pipeline by arch rivals Greece, Cyprus and Israel. This has become a redline for Egypt and others.

President Sisi called General Haftar and Speaker Agila Saleh and called for ceasefire and a dialogue in accordance with Berlin and other processes. Russia was also keen on a ceasefire as allegedly its Wagner Group mercenaries were also threatened and they wanted to avoid direct confrontation with Turkey. Russia obviously denies any role except a constructive one. Besides Putin and Erdogan have been able to find a modus vivendi in Syria, the Mediterranean and now in Libya rather than fighting against one another militarily which was becoming inevitable. In fact, on July 22 at the Russia -Turkey High Level Consultations in Ankara the two sides recalled their Istanbul Initiative of January 8, 2020 to deescalate the situation on the ground and to pave the way for a political process in Libya and committed to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Both sides also expressed conviction that it can only be resolved by a Libyan led and owned UN facilitated process in accordance with the Berlin Process (of January 19,2020) through an intra-Libyan political dialogue. They reiterated that there is no military solution to the conflict. They called for a lasting and sustainable ceasefire. They agreed to meet again in Moscow. Will an “Astana” like alternate process begin is the moot question. But the Statement by President Erdogan’s Security Adviser Kalin does not provide much hope as he insisted on Haftar retreating to the Libyan frontlines of 2015 pulling back from Sirte that has become the redline for the Egyptians. Kalin said that any Egyptian deployment in Libya will be “dangerous military adventure”. Turkish High Security Council also reiterated their resolve to stand with the “people of Libya against any tyranny and will not hesitate to take any steps”.

Even Egyptians called for a ceasefire last month that was rejected by the Tripoli government. A call by Tobruk based government and the House of Representatives (HoR) supported by various Tribal leaders and elders sought the direct Egyptian intervention against Turkish occupation. But their recent decision to deploy forces in favour of General Haftar met with disapproval by many countries including US, UK and Germany and others. They have been advised to refrain from direct intervention as this could further derail any chances of the resolution of the crisis.

Egyptian Foreign Minister visited Jordan and Palestine to seek their support. But it seems they preferred a political process. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said “The regionalisation of the Libyan crisis would make things harder and more complex. As a result, we support all efforts exerted in reaching a political solution that would ensure Libya’s unity and territorial integrity, as well as stand in the way of turning Libya into an arena for regional conflicts.” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov also spoke to FM Shoukry.

Even though the clouds of a disastrous war are looming large in Libya – the Europeans are unable to digest the affront of their NATO ally. French President Macron denounced Turkey’s gas exploration plans in the Eastern Mediterranean while supporting Cyprus and Greece. Turkish ships also ignored the calls for checking their cargo by the French Navy under the EU/UN Mandate to prevent illegal arms supplies to war torn Libya. The Greeks have deployed its naval assets in heightened readiness in the Aegean Sea to defend its “sovereign rights”. Egypt and Greece are also on the verge of an Agreement for delimiting their Economic zones in the Mediterranean that will add to more claims and counter claims and sovereignty issues in a Venn Diagram format.

Opening multiple fronts at the same time is a recipe for disaster. This brinkmanship and triangular power struggles, and the Hagia Sophia conversion into a mosque by Erdogan giving him further legitimacy as the new leader and protector of Islam, could easily get ignited by a simple charge or a short fuse that will be disastrous for the region, when the world is faltering in its fight against the Covid-19 and US is more focussed on China and the Indo-Pacific. It may not remain limited to the Libyan shores.
(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

Image Source: https://www.aljazeera.com/mritems/Images/2020/7/27/ede39875dae44ce99c3e1215e9a6392d_6.jpg

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