Unlike Turkey, which was requested to help defend the legitimate UN-recognised government in Tripoli, Egypt has no such mandate to enter Libya.
On Monday, the Egyptian parliament passed a measure authorising the use of troops in neighbouring Libya, just weeks after the country’s autocratic leader, Abdel Fattah al Sisi, warned of military operations there.
The move sanctioning the deployment “to defend Egyptian national security” passed unanimously in a legislature that serves to rubber stamp Sisi’s decisions.
Egypt’s allies in Libya, made up of the Haftar-affiliated Tobruk-based parliament, also gave its green light for the Egyptian deployment despite opposition from the legitimate UN-recognised Government of National Accord in the capital Tripoli.
The body said the decision was “protecting the national security” of both countries.
Sisi has been agitating for action since the legitimate government, pushed by warlord Khalifa Haftar from the edges of Tripoli, began advancing on territory he held in a counter-offensive.
The Egyptian dictator has designated the strategic cities of Sirte and Jufra as ‘red lines’, as GNA forces prepare to retake them from the Cairo-backed warlord who stands accused of conducting massacres and killing civilians.
Sisi has also attempted to form an alliance of tribes to back the warlord, but the extent to which they pose a credible threat to the GNA is up for debate.
“We completely reject the Egyptian Parliament’s decision based on an illegitimate invitation by those who claim to represent the Libyan tribes under the guise of parliament,” the GNA said in a statement referring to the pro-Haftar Tobruk-based entity.
GNA lawmakers further asked the government “to be prepared to politically and practically respond to this threat, and to consider every option to give the correct response.”
Libya’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, on Tuesday said that Egyptian parliament’s decision is a “declaration of war” against his country.
In a tweet which was later removed, Bashagha said; “the Egyptian parliament’s approval of troop deployment outside its western borders is a declaration of war on Libya and violates Arab League and UN charters.”
He explained that foreign forces on Libyan territory will be treated as enemies, and that Libyan security will not hesitate to defend their country’s sovereignty.
A question of legitimacy
In 2015, the UN helped broker an agreement between warring parties after talks in Shirkat, Morocco.
Participants agreed to form a unity government, which would be recognised by the UN and the international community.
That government took the form of the GNA, and it is the only entity which has legal right to rule over Libyan territory and to serve as representative of the country on the international stage.
“It called on Member States to cease support to and official contact with parallel institutions claiming to be the legitimate authority, but which were outside of the Political Agreement,” the UNSC said at the time.
Some countries, however, do not seem to have taken this on board, choosing instead to sponsor Haftar’s destabilising campaign against the central government.
Russia, the UAE, France, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have thrown their weight behind Haftar.
The Arab League’s Assistant Secretary General, Hossam Zaki, has confirmed that the GNA is the “accredited government (of Libya) for the Arab League, the African Union and the United Nations.”
Zaki further established that all agreements signed between the GNA and Turkey are valid.
Turkey’s support to Libya has therefore come at the request of an entity legally entitled to do so.
Such help has not been superfluous to the GNA’s needs. For the Libya’s government, the support has averted an existential danger.
Without Turkish support in the form of military advisors and military training, Haftar’s militias would likely have breached the capital creating a bloodbath, consequent refugee crisis, and possible failure of Libya as a state.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has clarified: “They (Haftar allies) are helping a war baron, we are responding to the invitation of Libya’s legitimate government. That is the difference.”
Any attempt by Sisi to create a parallel between Turkey’s involvement and his own country’s, are therefore misleading.
‘Dangerous adventure’: Turkey warns Egypt over Libya invasion
At Istanbul meeting, Russia and Turkey agree to push for a ceasefire but Ankara says eastern commander must retreat.
Turkey and Russia agreed on Wednesday to press for a ceasefire in war-ravaged Libya, but Ankara said the leader of the eastern forces was illegitimate and must withdraw from key positions for a credible truce to take hold.
Moscow and Ankara are among the main power brokers in Libya’s conflict while supporting opposing sides. Russia backs the eastern-based forces of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, while Turkey has helped the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) repel Haftar’s attempt to storm the capital.
“We’ve just reached an agreement with Russia to work on a credible and sustainable ceasefire in Libya,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top security adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, told Reuters news agency.
Kalin said any deal must be based on a return to what he said were the Libyan front lines in 2015, requiring Haftar’s forces to pull back from the strategic city of Sirte – gateway to Libya’s eastern oilfields – and al-Jufra, an airbase near the centre of the country.
“For the ceasefire to be sustainable, Jufra and Sirte should be evacuated by Haftar’s forces,” Kalin said.
Battle for Sirte
Turkish-backed forces allied with the UN-recognised government in the capital are mobilising on the edges of Sirte and have vowed to retake the Mediterranean city along with the inland al-Jufra airbase.
The United States has said Moscow sent warplanes to al-Jufra via Syria to support Russian mercenaries fighting alongside Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). Russia and the LNA both deny this.
Egypt, which also backs the LNA, has threatened to send troops into neighbouring Libya if the GNA and Turkish forces try to seize Sirte. The Egyptian parliament on Sunday gave a green light for possible military intervention.
Kalin said any Egyptian deployment in Libya would hamper efforts to end the fighting and would be risky for Cairo. “I believe it will be a dangerous military adventure for Egypt.”
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said on Wednesday achieving a political solution in Libya requires a “firm” response to “extremists” and foreign interference, which “not only threaten Egypt’s interests but also the security of Mediterranean countries”.
He noted a peace proposal announced in Cairo last month aimed at stabilising Libya and eliminating armed fighters and militias in the oil-rich country.
The proposal announced by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi included a ceasefire and a new elected presidential body representing the three Libyan regions. The east Libya camp accepted the proposal, dubbed the Cairo Declaration, while the Tripoli-based administration rejected it.
Wednesday’s joint agreement by Turkey and Russia on their ceasefire efforts included a call for measures to allow humanitarian access to those in need and efforts to promote political dialogue between the rival Libya sides.
But Kalin said Haftar had violated previous truce deals and was not a reliable partner, suggesting other figures in the east should play a role.
“We don’t take [Haftar] as a legitimate actor anyway,” he said. “But there is another parliament in Tobruk. There are other players in Benghazi. The negotiations will have to take place between them.”
The LNA has itself sent fighters and weapons to bolster its defence of Sirte, already badly battered from earlier phases of warfare and chaos since the 2011 revolution against longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi.
Russia’s foreign ministry said it backs a ceasefire and political talks that would culminate in united governing authorities. Russia has received senior delegations from both sides of the Libyan conflict in Moscow and tried and failed to get Haftar to sign up to a ceasefire agreement.
‘All kinds of bullying’
Shukry’s comments came in separate phone calls with France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, according to a statement from Egypt’s foreign ministry. Erdogan, meanwhile, chaired a high-level security meeting that focused on Libya on Wednesday.
A statement released at the end of the National Security Council meeting said Turkey would not hesitate to take all steps necessary against “all kinds of bullying” taking place in Libya. The council promised to “stand by the people of Libya against any tyranny”.
Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and other foreign powers have provided Haftar’s forces with critical military assistance. Russia also sent hundreds of mercenaries through the Wagner Group, a private military company. Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled Gaddafi who was later killed.