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Egypt reaches out to Maghreb countries to resolve Libyan crisis

Egypt has been reaching out to the forces active in the Libyan crisis, especially the neighboring Maghreb countries of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

On July 26, speaker of the Libyan Tobruk-based parliament Aguila Saleh met with Moroccan officials in Morocco, followed by a call between the Tunisian President Kais Saied and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on July 30 and another between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Algerian counterpart Sabri Boukadoum on Aug. 2. The meetings focused on how to reach a political solution to the Libyan crisis and avoid military action.

Egypt supports Saleh and eastern military strongman Khalifa Hifter, commander of the Libyan National Army, against Libya’s Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj. The Maghreb countries have taken a neutral stance.

Mohamed al-Orabi, former Egyptian minister of foreign affairs and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Egyptian Parliament, told Al-Monitor that Egypt is contacting Maghreb countries with the aim of reaching a consensus on the Libyan crisis, but such efforts need time.

Orabi criticized Tunisia and Algeria for being too preoccupied with their internal situations to pay attention to the years-long Libyan crisis or coordinate with Egypt on solutions. He stressed that stability in Libya is vital to the national security of all these countries, not Egypt alone, and that strong coordination is needed between them to address the issue.

He expects the events in Lebanon to affect the Libyan crisis and draw attention away from it, as did the outbreak of the coronavirus when some countries exploited it to intervene in Libya, threatening Arab national security. Orabi was referring to the Turkish intervention in support of the GNA that further complicated the crisis.

Meanwhile, Salah Abdallah, deputy secretary-general of the Arab Popular Conference, believes that communication between Egypt, Libya’s neighbors and the Maghreb countries is necessary to resolve the Libyan crisis and preserve Arab national security. Thus, he added, opening communication channels with Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Chad and Sudan is crucial to forming a common vision for a solution in Libya.

Abdallah told Al-Monitor over the phone that while the Egyptian efforts may not lead to a total consensus on Libya, they can contribute greatly to a convergence of visions. Islamic currents largely control the Maghreb countries, which take neutral and balanced positions in Libya to avoid angering them, Abdallah explained. He added that the Maghreb countries are more supportive of Sarraj’s government, while Cairo backs Hifter.

He further said that rapprochement between Egypt and Libya’s neighbors is necessary for Libya’s stability and for stopping the fighting.

Abdallah said that it’s possible for Libya to hold a peace conference where the parties could agree to form a government that properly expresses the Libyans’ voices, because it has become impossible for the Sarraj government to continue. He stressed that rapprochement between Egypt and the Maghreb countries would be an important step toward that end.

In early June, Sisi suggested a political solution to the Libyan crisis and called for a cease-fire, urging all parties to abide by previous international agreements and stressing the need to abide by the results of the Berlin summit. Sisi also called for fair representation of all three Libyan provinces in a presidential council and for the disarmament of all militias.  On June 7, the Maghreb countries rejected the Cairo initiative as biased toward one Libyan party at the expense of the GNA. They stated that each Libyan party must be treated equally and stressed their commitment to the Skhirat agreement.

Farouk Tayfour, a professor of political science at the University of Algiers, told Al-Monitor over the phone that Egyptian bias toward one of the conflicting parties in Libya complicates the process of reaching a consensus with the Maghreb countries. Cairo directly supports Hifter against the GNA, he added, which greatly affected the response to the Cairo initiative from Libya’s neighboring countries.

Tayfour noted that rapprochement and consensus over a solution in Libya requires neutrality from Egypt, which must stop supporting one party against another so that its efforts can gain the credibility and strength they need to be effective, especially among the Libyan parties.

He explained that a solution cannot come from the outside and should begin inside Libya, though the neighboring countries will play a major mediation role.

Mohammed Boden, a professor of international relations at the Mohammed V University in Rabat, told Al-Monitor over the phone that Egypt is consulting with the Maghreb countries regarding the Libyan file because as neighboring countries  to Libya, their national security is affected by the crisis.

He added that contacts between Cairo and the Maghreb countries are ongoing amid a multiplicity of initiatives and proposed solutions including the Berlin conference, the Cairo initiative and the Skhirat agreement.

He stressed that the success of any initiative or mediation requires first of all Libyan approval, international support, UN sponsorship and a neutral environment. Thus coordination between Egypt and the Maghreb countries in these circumstances may be an accumulated diplomatic effort in search of a Libyan-Libyan solution, and it should only be a helpful factor for the Libyan-Libyan dialogue. He also believes that the countries that are benefitting from the current instability in Libya must not be involved in any future initiative.

Boden pointed out that the Egyptian efforts face many challenges including the lack of trust between Egypt and the GNA and the rejection of some Maghreb countries of the Cairo initiative as they seek neutrality in Libya as well as the foreign interference and sharp polarization in the region.

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