Egyptian families worry for fishermen detained in Libya

As tensions escalate between Egypt and Libya, the fate of 35 Egyptian fishermen detained in Misrata remains unknown.

al-monitor Egyptian fishermen who had entered the Libyan waters without permission gather at the port in the Libyan city of Misrata on April 2, 2015, following the order of their release after three months in detention. Photo by MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images.
Rasha Mahmoud

Rasha Mahmoud


Topics covered

detainees, libyan civil war, gna, egyptian-libyan relations, fishermen

Aug 21, 2020

The families of 35 Egyptian fishermen have been living in fear for the past nine months, not knowing the fate of their relatives who were captured by the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) while working in Libyan territorial waters, said the head of the Egyptian fishermen's union, Ahmad Nassar.

In a phone call with Al-Monitor, Nassar expressed his concerns about the detained fishermen's detention conditions amid the coronavirus outbreak. He said, “The families of the fishermen lost contact with them in November, and after digging for information, we found out they were detained in Tourmina prison under the GNA’s control in the Libyan city of Misrata. They have no knowledge of the charges against them. They work according to documented contracts and without violating any laws.”

Nassar revealed to Al-Monitor that 35 fishermen from various Egyptian villages and governorates were arrested, including 13 from Sokari village in Metoubes city in Kafr el-Sheikh governorate, seven from Berj Mghayzel and 15 from Abu Qir in Alexandria. He said that they asked for help from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and wider government and that they contacted the consulate before falling silent. 

Hopes were revived recently after a number of the captives managed to contact relatives in Egypt.

Ahmad Abou Chahine spoke to Al-Monitor about his brother’s work in Libya and the circumstances of his arrest, saying, “My brother Mamdouh was among the detained fishermen we lost touch with [in November]. He left for work on his boat in November in Misrata with several men from the neighboring towns and villages in Kafr el-Sheikh. After we lost hope in finding him over the past months, we received a call from him and the group with him to rescue them from Tourmina prison in Libya.”

Khodrat Ibrahim, the mother of detainee Walid Mohammad Ibrahim, told Al-Monitor over the phone that her son traveled to Libya to work on a fishing boat he owned with a Libyan friend. While they were working in Misrata port, security forces arrested them for not having the required work documents, which the Libyan partner was working to obtain.

Khodrat added that she did not have any information until recently when her son, 24, called her from his detention center. The call lasted barely a minute before someone suddenly took away the cell phone. Her son said he is in poor health due to the inhumane detention conditions and that he and the other detainees are being mistreated. She said the call was not reassuring.

In June, 23 other Egyptians were released after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi directed the Foreign Ministry to handle the matter. The GNA had detained 23 fishermen after armed groups attacked them. A video circulated online shows Egyptians detained in western Libya by armed men. The detainees are shown raising their hands and standing on one foot.

The GNA’s Ministry of Interior announced that those involved in mistreating the Egyptian workers had been arrested and would be prosecuted. The ministry said it identified the Egyptian workers who were assaulted in this crime and that they had all returned to working normally before they were repatriated to Egypt. It indicated that the fishermen's complaints will be heard and an investigation will be conducted into whether their rights were violated.

Ten years after the popular revolt and NATO intervention toppled Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Libya remains unstable and has become a battlefield of armed militias fighting for power. Regional and international forces have stepped in, turning the country into a stage for regional conflicts and proxy wars.

Tensions have been escalating between the Egyptian government and the GNA, which the Turkish government is actively supporting. There has been talk of an Egyptian military intervention in Libya to support forces loyal to eastern military commander Khalifa Hifter, after the Egyptian parliament approved the deployment of the Egyptian army abroad in the wake of Turkey’s intervention to support the UN-recognized government in Tripoli. 

Egypt's stance toward Libya is shaped by security and economic interests and ideological concerns around fighting political Islam, as Egypt considers the GNA tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt’s western borders with Libya, which extend 1,115 kilometers (about 700 miles), are always a cause of concern for the Egyptian authorities. Many armed weapons and drug smugglers pass through as well as members of radical Islamist groups.

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