The current impetus in Egypt-Libya relations reflects the effectiveness of the strategy generally followed by Cairo towards the Libyan cause in view of the political transitions experienced by the country over the past decade, particularly during the last period that started with the Berlin Conference (January 2020) and the resulting three paths (political, economic and military).
Cairo has hosted many events on these paths and their parallel sub-paths, in particular the constitutional path. Egypt’s strong involvement in the Libyan political process has contributed to drawing the current transitional roadmap that begins with forming a national unity government to lay the groundwork for Libya crossing from a volatile political and security phase to a sustainable stability phase.
First: Egypt’s principles towards the Libyan cause
The Egyptian political vision for the Libyan cause depends on general principles from a stable prospective that governs the bilateral relationship between the two countries. In addition, the special and interim considerations have been imposed due to the fact that Libya is going through a critical transitional phase in the current period until the new elections, scheduled for 24 December, that will establish a stable structure for governance. The most important of the Egyptian principles are:
1. Libya is an Egyptian national security priority: The Libyan cause is one of the most important files for the Egyptian national security. Egypt has realized the extent of the reflections of the security volatility status in Libya during the past decade on its national security. Egypt has dealt with risks and threats of the chaotic situation in Libya by strengthening multiple deterrence capabilities and defensive engagement according to the rules of international law in undermining those situations and their repercussions. Egypt has also moved to support national institutions that were established to limit the increase of all non-traditional security phenomena in Libya such as terrorism, militias, arms chaos, the violation of borders and illegal immigration.
2. Restoring Libya’s unity: Since the Libyan crisis has been triggered, Egypt made sure to have an announced vision in favour of the Libyan people in terms of supporting the national reconciliation mechanisms and ending the situation of the regional polarization and the social disruption so as to unite the Libyan state. Egypt also made sure that Libya will come back a national powerful unitary state as a strategic neighbouring state in the first place. Accordingly, its strong comeback will strengthen the Arab status quo which definitely needs to get stronger by the comeback of Libyan state as one of main actor of its comprehensive system.
3. The need to respect red lines: Egypt was the first state that dealt with this crisis to confirm that there are red lines that cannot be waived by Egypt. On 19 June 2020, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said that the Libyan provinces of Sirte and Jufra are a red line for Egypt and will not let anyone cross it. That position was a milestone in putting the Libya crisis back on track before it reaches the point of no return. Egypt also endeavored to lay the most important foundations that will contribute to resolve the Libyan issue. Importantly, the political settlement is the only way to resolve this crisis, in addition to an end of foreign interference in this crisis, with the need to withdraw militias, mercenaries and terrorist groups from the Libyan territory.
4. National solution to the crisis: Egypt clearly announced the principle in which it believes and recognizes that it is the right approach to resolve the Libyan crisis, that this crisis will be resolved only by the Libyan people and the solution must come from within Libya. On 6 June 2019, Egypt announced a comprehensive Libyan-Libyan initiative for the solution, not an external vision. Experience has shown that any solution imposed from the outside would not be in Libyans’ interest or in the interest of the stability of the region, but it would be in the interests of states that intervene in Libyan affairs for the sake of its own interests.
Second: Preemptive domestic efforts
Egypt’s preemptive efforts were focused on stopping the war in Libya, launching the political settlement process and supporting the achievement of its own paths through its movements at the regional and international levels and at the Libyan local level and by cooperating with the United Nations and its regional support mission in Libya. These joint efforts have resulted in completing the first step of forming a new national executive authority. Cairo will also continue its efforts to achieve political entitlements adopted under the political roadmap of the transitional phase.
1. No return to war: The escalation tools in Libya, whether domestic or foreign tools, must be undermine to ensure that there is no return to the war again. That will be done through the Egyptian constants of the withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya and the reorientation of their involvement there to support the political process under the adopted and approved paths, particularly the military path (5+5) to eliminate the effects of the armed escalation during the last period and create a secure environment to ensure the transitional phase does not disrupt. In that regard, Cairo has supported the outcomes of Montreux Meeting (September 2020) approved by the Joint Military Commission (5+5) as a current and future plan of action to settle the security situation in Libya, which generally includes evacuating foreign mercenaries, reducing the phenomenon of militias, stopping forms of military intervention in Libya and removing the restrictions on movements on the local level especially between the East and the West.
In that regard, Egypt has hosted the Commission more than once, most recently at the end of last December, which approved the prospective principles and plan of action, including the termination of Libyans’ detention based upon the identity, the exchange of prisoners of war, stopping media escalation campaigns and hate speech to be replaced with a speech of tolerance and reconciliation, the renouncement of violence and terrorism, and the accelerated opening of the air and road lines of communication to ensure that citizens are free to move among all Libyan cities. It also included studying the security arrangements of the region to be determined in the next phase in light of meetings of the Joint Military Commission (5+5), with the importance of referring and giving priority to the subject of the tasks and responsibilities of the oil installations’ guards with a view to assessing and studying the situation in all its aspects and taking actions to ensure the regularity of the production and export process.
2. Consolidating military and security institutions: That consolidation is considered a strategic and crucial issue to restore stability in Libya. Egypt uses effectively its previous efforts in this file between 2016 and 2017 endorsed by Berlin Conference conclusions as a reference for the consolidation of Libyan institutions and in the context of the restoration of the unitary state. Also, Egypt is currently using the current positive atmosphere under the formation of a national unity government. The movements of that national unity government reflected during a short period of time, that followed its selection in the Libyan political forum (the 5th of current February), its endeavors to end situation of the regional polarization and institutional divide. In general, the subject of consolidating the institutions has become a high priority for these movements, foremost among which is the priority of consolidating the military institution. Following the first official visit of the Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Al-Dabaib to Cairo, Egypt confirmed its support to the efforts of this critical file as an interim necessity for the transition to the political and security stability in Libya.
3. Supporting a roadmap for the transitional phase: The roadmap includes a number of political entitlements at the national level such as holding legislative and presidential elections and the constitutional referendum. Egypt reaffirmed the provision of full support to the national unity government to deliver all these entitlements. In that regard, Cairo continues to host relevant events such as the commission of the constitutional path. It also continues to hold interviews with the elite, political components and various Libyan forces to ensure the achievement of this path. That reflects a basic indicator that Cairo seeks to translate political positions and principles, that have been framed in the Cairo Declaration and via all political stations and the events hosted by Cairo, into a consensual political reality at the national level, end the cycle of successive transitional phases and invoke politics not the force of arms.
4. Backing the development path: The joint movements between the Egyptian and Libyan sides reflected the support for the development path during the last period in the light of the openness of Cairo on all Libyan political parties. That openness is continuing in the light of the new national unity government and because Libya gave the development cause the top priority, in parallel with political priorities. It is expected that Egypt will contribute to supporting development efforts in Libya based on Egypt’s development experience at the infrastructure level, particularly in the areas of energy, operation of utilities, roads and building and construction. All these efforts are considered as an introduction to Libya’s reconstruction plan. This Egyptian support was one of the main items of the Egyptian Libyan consultations in the first meeting between the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and the Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Al-Dabaib which confirmed the priority to benefit from the Egyptian experience in this regard.
Third: External variables and dimensions
The Libyan experience revealed in the past 10 years the nature of the wide overlap between internal and external issues. Thus, the Libyan transitional authorities must restore the ability to form an effective foreign policy to ensure progress in arrangements of restoring security and stability in Libya. In that regard, the Egyptian movements reflect a fully aware of the effect of the international and regional context on the domestic situation in Libya, which was expressed by the Egyptian policy in a number of principles:
1. The importance of responding effectively to international variables: The election of the new executive authorities in Libya kept pace with a series of important changes that is consisted of two key variables with different possible effects on the situations in Libya. On the one hand, the new democratic administration has come to power in the United States after the inauguration of the new President Joe Biden. On the other hand, the Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis has taken up functions as the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for Libya after the position remained vacant for a year since Ghassan Salamé’s resignation. Against those important variables, the significant Egyptian support for the new Libyan authorities came as an important source for strengthening their legitimacy and ability to introduce itself to the world as a Libyan national leadership that enjoyed strong support from the neighboring states and is able to lead the transitional path in Libya to its desired aim on the political, security and economic levels.
2. Supporting Libya’s adoption of active and balanced foreign policy: Egyptian responses to the election of the new executive authorities in Libya revealed that Egypt placed greater emphasis on supporting Libya to adopt a balanced foreign policy which was reflected by the communications of the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi with the President of the Presidency Council Mohamed Al-Manfi and the Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Al-Dabaib, as well as the reception of the latter in Cairo. On that basis, the support for new Libyan executive authorities to adopt a balanced and active policy towards its regional neighboring states and in its relations with various international powers that have strategic interests in Libya is one of key factors promoting Libya’s restoration of some of its lost power before the foreign interference. That support is also a start to restore the active regional role that Libya has lost since 2011. The restoration of that role will reflect positively on security and stability in Libya, whether in the Arab circle, Mediterranean circle or even the Sahel circle.
3. Affirming the central role of Libya’s neighboring states: Egypt always emphasizes the priority of Libya’s neighboring states in supporting its transitional phase over the past decade. All those states have a fundamental interest in restoring stability and security in Libya in the shortest time possible due to the common interests between those states because of the geographical proximity and the historical experience. With the steady rise in the roles of the international and regional powers in the Libyan file, the logic of competition for interests has prevailed in Libya, which disrupting the settlement path in several occasions. The Egyptian support for Libyan transitional institutions in the current phase reaffirms the central role of the neighboring states in increasing the chances of success of the existing transitional path. This Egyptian support is all the more important as at the present moment Libya’s neighboring states face challenges adversely affected its ability to provide a support to Libyan transitional authorities in the light of successive political changes in Algeria and Tunisia, Sudan’s concern about the requirements of completing its transition phase that started in 2019 and serious security challenges and political updates faced by Chad and Niger, especially after France announced the conduct of a comprehensive review for its military deployment plans in the Sahel region.In light of the foregoing, Libya is going through a new transitional phase where Egypt plays a crucial role to reach a comprehensive strategic partnership with Libya to achieve the interests of both states. This makes it clear that the Egyptian central role for resolving the Libyan crisis is ongoing and works within a clear plan and deliberate successive steps that will bear fruits in the next phase through the concerted efforts of all segments of Libyan society and the concerned states that share with Egypt the same vision.