Skip to main content

Egypt threatened by 'ungoverned space' on Libyan border

The breakdown of order in Libya and the rise of militancy in the Sinai Peninsula have led to new terror threats and a new normal for Egyptians concerned about security.
Rebel fighters patrol in the desert south of the Libyan rebel-held town of Ar Rujbann the Western Mountains, some 150 km (93.2 miles) southwest of Tripoli, May 28, 2011. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR2N136

“Ungoverned space” — areas nominally within the sovereign reach of the ruling power but effectively outside its control, are well on their way to becoming one of the defining features of the post-US occupation, post-Arab Spring Middle East. From Anbar in Iraq, to the entire area of what we once knew as Libya, the power of the state has atrophied or even disappeared. In its place, a motley assortment of well-armed pretenders or, increasingly, no one at all, contests for power and spoils, creating a vacuum filled by jihadists, arms dealers, drug smugglers and human traffickers.

The western desert — where Egypt meets Libya — is the latest region to join this expanding club. “The western desert risks becoming an ungoverned area,” explained a well-informed Egyptian official in a conversation in Cairo last week. “If we do not change direction, it will become a no-man's-land in a decade.”

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.