Egypt’s parliament approves military intervention in Libya
As Cairo demonstrates its readiness to intervene in Libya in response to GNA’s announced offensive on Sirte, how much bluff versus reality do these threats contain?
On 18 July, troops from the Fayez al-Sarraj-led Government of National Accord (GNA) set out in the direction of the city of Sirte, located northwest of Libya’s strategic oil crescent, with the objective of taking back control of this area held by the Libyan National Army (LNA) – under the command of General Khalifa Haftar – and mercenaries with ties to the Russian private security firm Wagner Group.
GNA military commanders said that around 200 vehicles are on their way to Sirte from Misrata. As these troops move closer to this strategic city, the likelihood of a confrontation between Libya’s various rival factions and their international backers increases.
As a matter of fact, Cairo, allied with General Haftar, is reviewing a number of military options to counter the advance of forces loyal to the GNA and the latter’s Turkish ally.
According to the Egyptian media outlet Al-Ahram, Egypt’s parliament met on Monday, 20 July to discuss the military situation in Libya. The debate was set “to be followed by a vote to mandate President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to intervene militarily in Libya”.
‘Africa’s strongest army’
During a meeting on 16 July in Cairo between the Egyptian president and Libyan tribal leaders, the latter group asked Sisi to authorise Egypt’s armed forces “to intervene to protect the national security of Libya and Egypt”.
Sisi pledged his support to them on Monday 20 July in Cairo after Egyptian MPs unanimously approved a military intervention in Libya, in accordance with Article 152 of the constitution, which stipulates that “the supreme leader of the [a]rmed [f]orces […] shall not declare war or send the [a]rmed [f]orces outside the state’s borders to undertake fighting missions unless he first seeks the opinion of the National Defence Council and the approval of a two-thirds majority of MPs”.
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In a resolution passed on 13 July, Libya’s House of Representatives – located in Tobruk and which backs LNA forces – asked the Egyptian and Libyan armed forces “to work together to guarantee the occupier’s defeat and preserve shared national security in the face of the dangers posed by the Turkish occupation”.
In his meeting with Libyan tribes on Thursday, Sisi said that Egypt has “the strongest army in the region and in Africa”. He also reiterated that “Sirte and Al-Jufra are a red line for Egypt”, but did not elaborate on the scope of a future Egyptian military intervention in Libya.
Fears over an ‘endless war’
President al-Sisi also said that Egypt’s armed forces will continue to “work side by side with the LNA in terms of […] training Libyan army officers […] and providing [eastern] Libyan tribes with weapons”, as most tribes back Haftar’s troops. “But the Egyptian army is a very wise force, and it is not interested in mounting occupation operations,” the president added.
A number of observers are sceptical about the idea of Egypt directly intervening in Libya.
“Turkey announced that it was openly intervening in western Libya in December and January. Over this period of almost nine months, Egypt didn’t intervene to block Turkey,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a political commentator on Libya and research fellow at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague.
“Since the end of May, Wagner Group – closely and enthusiastically assisted by the United Arab Emirates – has carried out the overwhelming majority of work to ensure that the GNA is unable to take control of Sirte.”
MP Hussein Abu Gad, a member of “Mostaqbal Watan”, the parliamentary majority party, told Al-Ahram that Egypt’s military threats do “not necessarily mean that Egypt will send troops to Libya or that Egyptian military forces will participate in any fighting missions on Libya’s [territory]”.
“Egypt knows that if it sends its army to Sirte, it will automatically unleash a war that will have no end in the foreseeable future. The human and financial cost of such a war has the potential to destabilise a government that is already beset by a number of major problems, including the Nile dam dispute, the coronavirus pandemic, a particularly painful economic crisis and the situation in the Sinai, which only continues to worsen,” warns Harchaoui.