Egyptian foreign policy and the Libyan crisis

Time to restore Egypt's pivotal role in Libya

Political analyst Taqadum al-Khatib argues that Egypt can, in co-ordination with its European partners, develop a common vision to solve the complex conflict in Libya. For this to happen, however, Egypt must disengage its foreign policy from that of the UAE and Saudi Arabia

Since the uprisings in the Middle East, Egyptian foreign policy has seen a change in direction, falling into step with the policy decisions made by those countries opposed to the Arab Spring. This axis is led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia; Egypt’s role has shifted from one of leadership to that of a subordinate.

This shift is reflected in Egypt's foreign interests and national security. The first manifestation of this transformation and its damaging consequences was the concession of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia in 2016; the islands are of strategic significance to the Sinai Peninsula and to Egypt's national security.

In a similar vein today, the complex Libyan crisis is having repercussions for Egypt’s security and is bound to become a threat on its western borders. From the first moment – as Egypt joined the axis of counter-revolution in supporting General Khalifa Haftar's forces against the internationally recognised government – Cairo sacrificed any leading role it might have played in finding a resolution. Egypt could have been a mediator between the conflicting parties, playing any number of cards to de-escalate the situation and to move towards a political solution.

Proxy war in Libya reflects regional developments

Owing to the complexities on the ground and the escalating military confrontation, the situation in Libya today is so complex that the international community has so far failed to get to grips with it. The conflict now involves multiple parties: there is the Egyptian-Saudi-Emirati alliance facing the Turkish-Qatari alliance, and there is the Franco-Italian struggle alongside Russia’s anti-American agenda.

These conflicting and contradictory agendas in Libya represent a stumbling block in the way of any solution, and they underline the international community’s impotence. At the same time, the struggle has spread to the EU, which had been entrusted with finding a solution, but the rivalry between France and Italy, the old colonial powers in Libya, is complicating the EU’s task.

Whilst the French government has publicly adopted a position of support for the legitimate government of al-Sarraj, it has been secretly pursuing another agenda of support for Haftar's forces and his military campaigns. By contrast, Italy has adopted a different position in defiance of France and in line with its view of Libya as one of its former colonies, to which it retains "a historical right".

This conflict of interests has prevented a peaceful solution frorm being reached. Indeed, it has obliged the German government led by Chancellor Merkel to make numerous efforts to bring the French and Italian adversaries together, albeit such efforts have been in vain to date. Indeed, there are growing doubts as to whether the Berlin conference scheduled for Sunday 19 January will enable the parties to find a solution which is acceptable to all.

In a new development, Turkey has entered the fray; ideologically against the counter-revolution, it is sending forces to support the government of al-Sarraj. This Turkish military support is not new, nor are the Egyptian and Emirati weapons’ flows to the Haftar camp. Erdogan's support for al-Sarraj is not only military in nature, but also political, lending his country diplomatic cover in international fora. The conflict in Libya is now balanced between East and West, while accurately reflecting the struggle between opposing political agendas in the Middle East.

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