By Kersten Knipp

The Egyptian president has threatened to intervene militarily in Libya. Then there would be a third foreign power in the country alongside Russian mercenaries and Turkey. There is a lot at stake.

The foreign ministers’ message was clear: Libya’s integrity should be preserved in any case, and the country should not fall apart in regions controlled by foreign actors, they said at an emergency meeting of the Arab League on Tuesday. 

A disintegration would also tear the country apart socially. The ministers therefore clearly refused military intervention from abroad. 

“The military option will not win either side,” warned the league general secretary, Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Aboul Gheit at the video conference. “Neither will military engagement bring peace or ensure political stability in Libya.”

Sirte as a “red line” for Egypt

Ahead of the meeting, Egyptian Prime Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had issued clear warnings to the government of national unity led by Fajis al-Sarradsch. 

The advance of the armed forces of the Libyan unity government supported by Turkey to the important Libyan coastal city of Sirte is a “red line” for Egypt. 

At the beginning of the month, Egypt had recommended itself as an intermediary .

Several ports and numerous oil pipelines and gas pipelines in the country are relatively easy to control from Sirte. The city is therefore considered to be of great strategic importance. 

Those who control them also have important material and economic resources for military engagement in their hands, which could even be decisive for the war. 

Egypt fears that Al-Sarradsch’s troops could expand their control over large parts of the country via Sirte. Al-Sarradsch also pacts with Islamist groups. These are a thorn in the side of Egypt.

Al-Sisi’s calculation

Should Egypt really dare to intervene in Libya? Political scientist Tarek Megerisi from the “European Council on Foreign Relations” (ECFR) said in a DW interview that this was probably not the case. 

He considers Al-Sisi’s warning of red lines to be a bluff to stop the advance of Al-Sarradsch’s troops. In addition, this is a warning to Turkey, which is militarily committed to the Al-Sarraj government, whose victory Egypt wants to prevent with all its might. 

“With this threat, Al-Sisi is making it clear to Turkey that it is better for her to have a peaceful relationship with Egypt than an enemy.”


The Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu (left) in conversation with the Libyan Prime Minister Al-Sarraj

However, Turkey is very effective in Libya. Thanks to her, the government of National Unity Troops has succeeded in stopping and eventually suppressing General Chalifa Haftar’s troops’ push for more than a year.

The prerequisite for this change, writes Libya expert Wolfram Lacher of the Berlin “Science and Politics Foundation”, was the partial withdrawal of mercenaries from the Russian military company Wagner, which is present in Libya. Russia supports Haftar’s troops.

The influence of Russia and Turkey

With Moscow’s withdrawal, Haftar’s troops have lost much of their clout. In return, the Turkish army has refrained from air strikes against the attackers.

“Haftar’s offensive fell victim to a Turkish-Russian deal,” said Lacher. However, Al-Sarradsch’s troops do not benefit from their opponent’s weakness.

With the help of drones from the United Arab Emirates – these also support General Haftar’s troops – they were prevented from further expelling Haftar from the Libyan West.

This development shows the influence of international actors such as Turkey and Russia in Libya.


General Haftar, the commander of the armed forces linked to the exile government in Tobruk

With their commitment, the inner-Libyan alliances stand and fall at the same time. These dissolve as quickly as they were formed before.

Above all, supporters of both sides have direct success in mind and are hardly in the best interests of the country, but more and more committed to their own interests.

If the foreign intervention powers withdraw their support, this has a direct impact on the tactical calculation of the militias associated with the two warlords.

“Wherever the line is drawn – Turkey has become the dominant power in western Libya and Russia the most important patron of Haftar,” writes Lacher.

At the same time, the NATO country Turkey has established an exciting relationship with France through its engagement, which also belongs to the western defense alliance.

France is primarily interested in pacifying the Sahel region, which begins in southern Libya and in which several jihadist groups are active.

To do this, the government in Paris is dependent on the most stable conditions in Libya. She sees this questioned by the government of Al-Sarradsch, which is dependent on Islamist groups.

Düstere Aussichten

Whether the conflict can be stopped and peace negotiations started under these circumstances is doubtful. The international actors have invested a lot in the Libyan war – perhaps too much to simply let go of their goals.

For negotiations, this would mean that they would in all likelihood be conducted in the spirit of the zero-sum game that also shaped the logic of the military conflict.

“An agreement would again create a single government and army leadership, which could then turn against any foreign military presence,” writes Wolfgang Lacher. “It is therefore not in the Turkish or Russian interest to resolve the conflict – rather to freeze it.”

Black smoke: fighting in Tripoli, April 2020

This concern may have prompted the Arab League to initiate a reconciliation of interests in Libya. A frozen conflict would not calm the country down for years and would have unforeseeable consequences. 

Parts of a youth without prospects could radicalize and seek their salvation either in mafiotic and / or extremist networks.

“There is always a solution, but very few people want to push it forward,” says Tarek Megerisi. But precisely these people lack the political power to lead negotiations to an end that is mutually acceptable. 

After Haftar’s defeat, the Libyan actors should gather for negotiations under the direction of the United Nations. 

The UN has long advocated an arms embargo against Libya . “Unfortunately,” says Megerisi, “too many foreign countries are too focused on their short-term interests to do so.”


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