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Egypt steps up efforts to calm Libya

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with head of the Libyan Presidency Council Mohammad Menfi in Cairo to discuss the future of the political process in Tripoli, amid Cairo’s renewed efforts to end the political chaos and divisions in the neighboring country.
Mohamed al-Manfi (L), head of Libya's presidency council, and new interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah (R) arrive.

CAIRO — Egypt has recently taken both overt and covert steps to settle differences and end the state of rivalry between Libya’s political forces, as it considers the situation in Libya along its western border to be linked to its own national security.

Egypt is coordinating with various international forces to ensure stability for Libya after more than a decade of chaos and bloody events following the killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi on Oct. 20, 2011, and a popular revolution that toppled his 42-year rule. 

To this day, Libya is struggling toward reaching a democratic path by holding presidential and parliamentary elections, which were scheduled to take place on Dec. 24, 2021, before they were indefinitely postponed.

In this context, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi held a series of meetings in the past months to discuss the Libyan issue, with the aim to achieve the Libyans’ interest and preserve the unity of Libyan territories. The latest such meeting was held between Sisi and the head of Libya's Presidential Council Mohammad Younes Menfi at the Heliopolis Palace March 29.

The official spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, Bassam Rady, said in a statement that the meeting tackled all issues that support the stability of Libya, within the framework of Egypt’s efforts to support Libyan institutions in fulfilling their responsibilities and role. 

The two officials also discussed the need to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya and end the transitional phase in a way that achieves unity for the Libyans, the right to self-determination and choice of leadership and representatives, according to Rady.

Salah Halima, the former assistant foreign minister, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt’s interest lies in creating a consensus between the Libyan parties to ensure the success of the political process and hold fair elections that fulfill the will of Libyan voters.” 

He stressed that Libyan security is inseparable from Egyptian security. “Libya is our neighbor, and we share historical ties and have common interests at all levels. Therefore, Egypt is devoted to Libya’s stability and reconstruction, and consultations are underway to send Egyptian workers to Libya. Egypt’s and Libya’s national security is one and the same.”

According to Rady’s statement, Menfi praised during his meeting with Sisi Cairo’s viral role and tireless efforts to restore security and stability in Libya by supporting comprehensive national reconciliation efforts among Libyans, reunifying state institutions, and backing the implementation of the recommendations reached through international efforts to remove all mercenaries and foreign forces from the country to ensure Libya’s unity, security and sovereignty.

Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “This meeting falls within the framework of Egyptian efforts to open channels of communication with all parties to the Libyan crisis to help them reach a comprehensive settlement that is sustainable and preserves Egyptian interests at the same time, and to see through the political process in Libya without foreign interference.”

He added, “Egypt will undoubtedly continue its efforts with all Libyan parties. It is clear that a real settlement cannot be reached unless the local parties agree on a unified vision and reduce their dependence on foreign parties.”

Abdel-Sattar Hetitah, a journalist and researcher specializing in Libyan affairs, told Al-Monitor that Egypt is keen to establish stability throughout Libya, and for this reason, it supports the decisions of Libya’s eastern-based parliament, including choosing Fathi Bashagha to head a new government

However, he continued, Egypt is aware that achieving stability in Libya is difficult in light of the emergence of obstacles to the decisions taken by the Libyan parliament. The obstacles are both domestic — represented by the interim government of Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and his supporters who are refusing to hand over power — and regional and international, Hetitah said, adding that the Libyan President Council led by Menfi is key in acting as a mediator to reach satisfactory solutions to local and foreign parties in Egypt’s opinion.

Hetitah added, “Egypt is trying to prevent any armed clash between the Libyans, because such a scenario would negatively affect Egyptian national security. Egypt also knows that supporters of Dbeibeh include extremist cross-border individuals, and if any confrontations occur and Dbeibeh wins against Bashagha’s factions, this would mean a new defeat for the eastern parliament and the Libyan National Army protecting the east and the south in Libya. Such a defeat would imply the return of the threat of extremist expansion in the eastern Libyan region along the Egyptian borders, which would be unacceptable for Egypt.”

On the meeting between Sisi and Menfi, Rady, the presidential spokesman, said in his statement that the pair also reviewed the internal political scene in Libya and agreed on the need to intensify coordination between the two parties during the coming period to follow up on the developments of Libya’s transitional phase.

In this context, Hetitah said, “Some international parties consider Menfi the savior of Libya's legislative future. Three authorities are competing over this future — the parliament, the High Council of State and the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which was formed under UN auspices. All three could not agree on a date to hold the elections or the way of conducting them. A proposal was put forward suggesting that the Presidency Council could be an alternative and issue binding legislation for all. I think Egypt also discussed such a solution with Menfi. But all matters in Libya are still pending, without any specific vision so far.”

In a clear continuation of the struggle over power in Libya, Dbeibeh continues to refuse to hand over power to the new Libyan government headed by Bashagha more than a month after it was sworn in by the eastern-based parliament. Dbeibeh says he would only hand over power to an elected government. 

In his speech during a virtual meeting held April 6 with head of the European Union delegation to Libya Jose Spadel, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Libyan parliament Youssef Aqouri called on the EU to urge Dbeibeh to respect the parliament’s decisions and the rules of democracy and hand over power, since his government (Dbeibeh’s) failed to organize the elections. Jose, for his part, stressed the commitment of the EU to work with the Libyan parliament to support the stability of Libya.

Mohammed Fathi al-Sharif, an Egyptian journalist, a researcher in Libyan affairs and head of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, told Al-Monitor that Libya is in constant consultations with Egypt because the Egyptian state has contributed to the stability of Libya and hosted many meetings regarding the Libyan issue. 

He added, “Egypt has also launched several initiatives, including the Cairo Initiative (in June 2020). Most of the provisions of this initiative were included in international proposals on Libya. The initiative shows that Egypt is open to all parties in all parts of Libya, and it is able to reunite the Libyan people to serve their interests. Meetings between Sisi and all the political actors in Libya were held as well in that spirit.”

Regarding Dbeibeh’s refusal to hand over power, Sharif believes that since he acceded to power, Dbeibeh has been implementing foreign plans aimed at prolonging and complicating the Libyan crisis in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and some militias.

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