Egypt last month announced that it had redefined the border of its exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean Sea adjacent to Libya.
Bearing in mind that the northernmost point of the Egyptian-Libyan land border falls where the coastline runs in a north-south direction, it was unfair to Egypt to draw the dividing line horizontally to the east.
Cairo has therefore identified nine points on the map and, with a slight curve toward the north, has drawn a line parallel with the 25th meridian. Otherwise, a vast area was going to be left to Libya. Whether Libya will accept this more or less arbitrary line is another question.
This new border partly overlaps the exclusive economic zone created by the memorandum of understanding that Turkiye signed in 2019 with Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord. This agreement was signed when Khalifa Haftar’s army controlled big swaths of land in Libya and threatened the Tripoli-based government.
Thanks to Turkiye’s military support as part of the memorandum of understanding, Fayez Al-Sarraj’s government was saved from collapse. There were claims at the time that Al-Sarraj accepted the signing of two deals under duress.
Though Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that three memorandums signed by Turkiye and Libya do not need to be ratified by the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, the international community believes they will not be valid international documents if they are not ratified by the parliament.
An agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco, on Dec. 17, 2015, is the only valid text endorsed by the UN. This agreement provides that any binding deal has to be ratified by the parliament operating in Tobruk.
This parliament says that the Tripoli-based government completed its term when the elections scheduled for December 2021 could not be held for a variety of reasons. Therefore, the mandate of the Tripoli government is considered to have come to an end and it cannot take binding decisions on behalf of Libya.
Fathi Bashagha, who has served as interior minister in the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, is known for his bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, although he later joined the secular movement of House of Representatives Speaker Aguila Saleh. In March 2022, this parliament elected Bashagha as prime minister of the Tobruk government. He is officially referred to as “the interim prime minister of the Government of National Stability.”
The UN has expressed misgivings about a lack of transparency and procedure, as well as acts of intimidation prior to the parliament session that voted in Bashagha. This added further complexity to the constitutional process. In other words, the entire political establishment in Libya is in need of a serious overhaul.
Ankara-Cairo cooperation may extend to working together on finding a lasting solution to Libya’s chronic problems. Yasar Yakis
Bashagha was Turkiye’s trusted man for a long period, but lately he has been trying to balance the preponderance of Ankara, Cairo and Athens. He is more in favor of a negotiated solution. The main actors in these developments will probably be Turkiye and Egypt. Cairo seems to be aware of Turkiye’s role in the region.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s initiative to redraw the borders of Egypt’s exclusive economic zone came at a moment when there had been a sea change in Turkiye-Egypt relations. In October, when Turkiye signed a new memorandum of understanding with the Tripoli-based government regarding cooperation in the field of hydrocarbons, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was quick to announce that Cairo had unilaterally suspended negotiations for the normalization of Turkiye-Egypt relations.
Shoukry’s statement appeared to have fallen into a vacuum when, as a pleasant surprise, El-Sisi warmly greeted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Qatar during the FIFA World Cup. The enthusiasm of both leaders changed the atmosphere. Not only did they warmly greet each other, but they also had an unscheduled half-hour meeting.
Ankara has refrained from commenting on El-Sisi’s initiative to redraw the boundary of Egypt’s exclusive economic zone. It says that this is an issue between Egypt and Libya. In other words, Ankara seems to be intent on not unnecessarily provoking the issue.
This question seems to be pending on both the Turkish and the Egyptian sides. On the Turkish side, the agreements signed by Turkiye with the Tripoli government cannot be implemented without ratification. On the Egyptian side, Cairo’s initiative is open to challenge by third countries.
Everything seems to be tied to the Libyan constitutional process. If the two-headed nature of governance in Libya is not eliminated, the problem will continue to poison the atmosphere.
Turkiye and Egypt may not necessarily recognize each other’s exclusive economic zones, but the Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement is such a big deal that the two countries may find ways to make mutual concessions. This cooperation may also extend to working together on finding a lasting solution to Libya’s chronic problems.
Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party.