Abbas Kamel in Libya to mediate between Haftar, Debeibah

Cairo seeks to understand what lies behind the silence of the Government of National Unity on Turkey’s refusal to withdraw its troops and mercenaries from Libya.
Friday 18/06/2021
Abbas Kamem meets with Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah at Haftar’s headquarters of the General Command in Al-Rajma, June 17, 2021. (Twitter)
Abbas Kamem meets with Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah at Haftar’s headquarters of the General Command in Al-Rajma, June 17, 2021. (Twitter)

TRIPOLI – The head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Major General Abbas Kamel, on Thursday made unannounced visits to Tripoli and Benghazi, aimed at easing the tensions between the General Commander of the Libyan National Army  (LNA), Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdelhamid al-Dbeibah.

Another purpose of the visit was to pass on several messages to the interim government, particularly Cairo’s dissatisfaction with its acceptance of the continued stay of Syrian mercenaries in Libya.

Egyptian sources told The Arab Weekly that Kamel told Libyan officials in Tripoli that Haftar is ready to reach an understanding with the interim government  and has requested that his fate be left to the Libyan people, thus alluding to his intent to run in the planned presidential election.

The sources explained that Kamel drew the attention of Libyan officials to the fact that the continued presence of Turkish forces and Syrian mercenaries, as well as the failure to disband the militias, give Haftar a good opportunity to outbid the government, which appears content with the continued stationing of the Turkish troops on Libyan soil.

The new government has remained silent over the statements by Turkish politicians rejecting any calls for their forces’ withdrawal from Libya.  Observers considered the lack of official reaction to that Turkish position a form of approval of the continued presence of their troops and mercenaries, despite the clear statements of Foreign Minister Najlah Al-Manqoush calling for the withdrawal of absolutely all foreign forces from Libya.

Her statements are now met with less enthusiasm in Tripoli after the government’s failure to take a position on the issue of mercenaries, both dispatched by Turkey to western Libya and those brought by Russia to fight alongside the LNA (even if Moscow refuses to recognise their presence in Libya).

The Egyptian sources stressed that Kamel was expected to have urged Dbeibah to resume his attempts at unifying the armed forces as a way to prevent the militias from running amok, especially since Dbeibah’s disregard for the LNA and his focus on training forces in the west suggests that he is not concerned with the issue of unifying the military.

The prime minister’s policy also gives the Brotherhood and armed organisations the green light to persist in their unruly behaviour, thus opening the way for more clashes and violence.

Egypt is following closely the effort to unify the Libyan armed forces, as it has for many years hosted, both in Cairo and Hurghada, a number of meetings of the Libyan military towards this very end.

Last month, Dbeibah refused to attend a military parade marking the eighth anniversary of the launch of Operation Dignity, launched to oust Islamists from Benghazi and Derna.

At the time, observers believed his decision was  a way to distance himself from conflicts, considering that the Operation Dignity still has many detractors in the western region. However,  his attendance at the graduation of cadets from the Volcano of Rage forces, loyal to the GNA, sent the  message that  he is counting on these forces  to be  the core of the military institution.

This impression was reinforced by the expectation that no state budget will be allocated to the Haftar-led LNA. This, according to observers, has been one of the reasons for the parliament’s refusal to approve the budget.

According to the Egyptian sources, Kamel was trying to understand what is behind the silence of the Libyan government on the Turkish determination to keep mercenaries and Turkish forces in Libya on the grounds that  they are not foreigners, which means they expect to stay on Libyan soil with the government’s approval.

It was anticipated that Kamel would  urge Dbeibah to take serious steps on this issue before the second Berlin conference, which will discuss the problem of foreign troops and mercenaries  Experts believe the government’s silence on Ankara’s designs can only damage the GNU’s credibility.

The sources say Kamel stressed to the GNU that re-enacting the behaviour of the Presidency Council of the previous Government of National Accord, by a de facto extension of the interim authority’s tenure, will not be possible. Kamel’s argument is that the international community is firmly determined to hold the elections on time and Dbeibah should take steps to bring them about.

After his meeting with Dbeibah and officials in Tripoli, Kamel travelled on to Benghazi, where he met Haftar at the headquarters of the General Command in Al-Rajma. There Kamel underlined the importance of preparing the Libyan National Army for the upcoming elections.

The head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Major General Abbas Kamel, walks downtown Tripoli with the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdelhamid al-Dbeibah, June 17, 2021. (twitter)
The head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Major General Abbas Kamel, walks downtown Tripoli with the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdelhamid al-Dbeibah, June 17, 2021. (twitter)

The new Libyan government is trying to reach out to all countries, especially those actively concerned with the Libyan crisis, regardless of their past positions towards the rival sides.

Cairo meanwhile is seeking to knock down the barriers that used to separate it from Tripoli by lessening its previous contacts with the authorities in the east and dealing more actively with the GNU.

This April, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly made an official visit to Tripoli, accompanied by 11 ministers, to enhance cooperation between the two neighbouring countries in a range of fields. .

Cairo had hinted last year at direct military intervention in Libya order to counter Turkey’s attempt to control Sirte after the LNA failed in its offensive towards Tripoli.

The withdrawal of Syrian mercenaries from Libya is one of Cairo’s key conditions for resuming relations with Ankara. It seems that Turkish intransigence on this particular point was a determining factors in the reported failure of the Egyptian-Turkish talks.

.But Egypt has not taken any public position on Russia’s Wagner mercenaries, who are reportedly stationed near oil fields and in some military bases in the south.