Egypt, Libya, and Greece are three pivotal states in the Mediterranean. These are three countries with different historical trajectories but with shared common prospects for the future based on a consensus of mutual national interests.
Egypt is the leader of the Arab world, an emerging hegemonic power with strategic interests in the Mediterranean Sea that has achieved great strides in progress over the last years under the government of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. Greece is a member of NATO and the European Union, a country with a strong military that has adopted an active foreign policy in the Mediterranean in coordination with Egypt on a variety of issues. Libya is an oil-rich country that is attempting to overcome the wounds of its recent past and rebuild a war-torn territory.
Concerning the situation in Libya, Egypt has effectively laid the fundamental framework that shall assist the Libyan people in their attempt to establish a working and stable environment of political life and reunite the country on all levels. Greece’s perception of the Libya crisis is in total agreement with the set of principles proposed by Egypt. These fundamental ideas should form the basis for the gradual reconstruction and geopolitical repositioning of Libya in the new environment of the Mediterranean.
After the seeming stabilization of the political process in Libya Greece is now actively returning to the country, being one of the first European countries to do so. This week, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited Tripoli. The Greek leadership met with Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah. The two countries agreed in reopening the Greek Embassy in Tripoli and the Greek Consulate in Benghazi. The official visit at the highest level marks the will of Libya and Greece to establish a framework of effective cooperation in all fields.
As the Mediterranean slowly but steadily stabilizes, new patterns of joint inter-state initiatives shall emerge and new chances for trilateral cooperation shall be formed. Cooperation between Egypt, Libya and Greece can extend effectively to a variety of fields, diplomatic, military, financial and cultural.
On a diplomatic level, Egypt and Greece have already established a solid and sincere relationship that has proven itself in many aspects and is ever deepening. The two countries have come closer over the last period with a series of diplomatic initiatives that forward bilateral cooperation. In fact, Greek-Egyptian cooperation is not just a set of conventional diplomatic contacts. Egypt and Greece have formed a real power bloc in the Eastern Mediterranean based on diplomatic, military, financial and cultural ties. The two most characteristic events of this cooperation were the signing in August 2020 of the partial maritime demarcation deal establishing an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)and the creation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) with the participation of many other countries. Now, the time has come for Egypt and Greece to turn their active interest to the Mediterranean once again and to create a trilateral framework of cooperation also including Libya.
In this context, the crucial issue that must be addressed is the de iure cancellation of the ineffective Memorandum of Understanding for the delimitation of maritime zones between Turkey and Faysal al-Sarraj signed in November 2019. The agreement was aptly condemned as illegal and lacking any legitimate basis or geographical sense by the Libyan House of Representatives and the Libyan National Army, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, a variety of other Mediterranean states, such as France, Israel, Italy, Malta, and Syria, as well as the United States of America, Russia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Sweden, Serbia, and the European Union and the Arab League concerning supra-state entities. The GNA-Turkish agreement is a direct violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the article 8 of the Skhirat Agreement which prohibits the Libyan Prime Minister from solely clinching international deals without consent of all the cabinet members. Essentially for Egypt and Greece, the two core states of the emerging new Mediterranean, this maritime deal is illegal from the point of international law. We should also always remember that Turkey is one of the few states globally that have not signed the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea disregarding international law.
Egypt, Libya, and Greece can move decisively forward after careful common technical work by signing of a set of agreements for the full delimitation of the whole extent of their national Exclusive Economic Zones. Greece and Libya can produce an agreement for the whole extent of their EEZs that of course shall render null the illegal 2019 GNA-Turkey memorandum. By signing a complete agreement for the full delimitation of their respective national EEZs in an area extending on a West to East axis, Libya and Greece shall ensure regional stability and protect their national interests. On their part, Greece and Egypt can complete the delimitation in the part west to the one defined in their partial 2020 agreement. Then, Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus can begin common work on establishing their respective EEZs in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this way Egypt shall have effectively completed its EEZ demarcation process and obtained sea borders with two EU-member states -Greece and Cyprus- both of which are Egypt’s best allies in the EU.
On a military level, the future united army of Libya should not include militias or foreign elements that have been active in Western Libya. The effective withdrawal of all mercenaries and the disbanding of militias is a sine qua non condition on this matter. In February during the Philia (‘Friendship’) Forum held in Athens, the Forum states emphatically stressed the need for the full withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from the country, a clear reference to Turkish-backed Islamist militants. Such a move has also been explicitly considered as essential for Libya’s future by the EU and other states, such as Sudan. Egypt’s proposals and ideas on this matter are essential for the formation of an effective and trustworthy Libyan army. Libya and Greece share close ties over the last decades before the civil war. There are already more than 280 Libyan officers that have graduated from Greek military schools. Future military cooperation between the three countries can include joint aeronautical exercises and exchange programs for officers.
On a financial level, close cooperation between Egypt, Greece, and Libya can focus on oil production and transfer networks. In relation to Egypt, Greece can function as a transit territory for export of LNG. Greece could also forward the idea of a customs union between the EU and Egypt, a move that would open a growing market of over 100 million to economic cooperation. Concerning Libya, Greece as a member of the European Union can cooperate on two levels. First, Greece can prove its steadfast commitment to a new stable economic environment by guaranteeing steady access to generous external EU financial aid for Libya. Second, Greece with its impressive tanker fleet can contribute to export of Libyan oil towards the EU.
Finally, on a cultural level all three countries are inheritors of a great historical past with their territories rich with antiquities and historical monuments. Concerning protection of cultural heritage, Egypt, Libya, and Greece can forward the idea of a Forum for the Repatriation of Stolen Antiquities, along with other countries affected by smuggling of antiquities, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Such an initiative could greatly benefit cultural enrichment of all countries involved. It could also strengthen their world image and tourism prospects.
Egypt, Libya, and Greece are neighbours in the Mediterranean with common sea borders. Cooperation between the three countries based on common interests and a pro-active strategic mentality shall keep out revisionist actors, such as Turkey, whose interferences have caused only turmoil and internal unrest. The time has come for a new perception of regional alliances and cooperation in the Mediterranean and this could be based on a decisive initiative, namely the signing of a full EEZ deal between Libya and Greece and between Egypt and Greece.