Egypt promotes ‘African solutions’ for Libya, Sudan

Egypt’s fear is that unrest in Sudan could spread beyond the country’s borders.
Sunday 28/04/2019
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) hosting African leaders for summit talks on the upheavals in Sudan and Libya, April 23. (AFP)
Neighbourly concerns. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) hosting African leaders for summit talks on the upheavals in Sudan and Libya, April 23. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt has taken steps to rally African countries behind efforts to prevent situations in Libya and Sudan from further deteriorating.

Cairo hosted summits on Libya and Sudan on April 23, asserting its role in regional politics through its African Union (AU) presidency and seeking to bring African influence to bear on both crises.

At a meeting of the AU Troika Committee and the AU High-Level Committee on Libya, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Libya, in recent years, has been at the centre of major problems, including organised crime, human trafficking and foreign interference.

“African countries are the closest to Libya, which is why they should move to help it eradicate terrorism,” Sisi said.

Concerns are rising among Libya observers after Libyan National Army Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar ordered his troops to march on Tripoli to fight Islamist militias controlling the city.

While Haftar’s troops have secured control over the country’s eastern and southern regions, there were fears the move on Tripoli could lead to a prolonged conflict that would undercut political negotiations aimed at restoring peace to the country.

Egypt, which has been negatively affected by the situation since Libya descended into chaos in 2011, is sympathetic to Haftar’s view on the need to combat Islamist militias.

“This is why Egypt backs the Libyan National Army,” said Heba al-Beshbeshi, a researcher at Cairo University’s Institute of African Studies and Research. “Libya is turning into a very dangerous transit point for illegal immigrants and terrorists.”

Cairo has expressed concern about interference by regional rivals Turkey and Qatar in Libyan affairs. The Libyan National Army accused Doha and Ankara of financing Libya’s Islamist militias.

Leaders attending the Cairo meeting renewed their support for Libyan unity and stability and called for the resumption of negotiations based on a “home-grown African formula.”

The communique issued following the meeting made clear the necessity of “ending the chaos brought about by the warring factions, limiting the possession of arms to the army and law-enforcement forces to be able to perform their duties in maintaining security and stability and countering terrorism.” The communique warned against actions that could prompt “foreign intervention” in Libya.

Sisi also led a consultative summit of Sudan’s regional partners to assess developments and create consensus on solutions. Attending the meeting were the leaders of Chad, Djibouti, Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and South Africa.

Sisi said this was a critical time for Sudan, which made it necessary for other African countries to show solidarity.

Summit participants agreed on the need to grant Sudan’s Transitional Military Council time before handing over power to a civilian government.

The African Union asked the Transitional Military Council to hand over power to a civilian government within 15 days or Sudan would face suspension from the organisation. Egypt convinced the AU to extend the deadline to three months.

“We agreed on the need for speeding up the return of the constitutional system in Sudan through a political democratic process led by the Sudanese themselves with backing from the AU and the international community,” Sisi said.

He called on the international community to help the economically struggling country overcome its economic problems. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia announced they would give Khartoum $3 billion in economic aid. The hope in Cairo is that other countries would follow suit.

Egypt’s fear is that unrest in Sudan, following the April 11 ouster of long-time President Omar al-Bashir, could spread beyond the country’s borders. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees live in Egypt and Cairo is concerned that more Sudanese citizens will flee to Egypt.

Some areas of Sudan’s border with Egypt are hotspots for smuggling weapons into Egypt and human trafficking. Egypt said such issues would be exacerbated by unrest.

Repeating a theme from the previous Libya AU meeting, Sisi called for “African solutions to African problems.”

“This is an important Egyptian foreign policy line which prevents foreign interference that can exacerbate problems, not solve them,” said Mohamed al-Shazly, a former Egyptian ambassador in Sudan. “Egypt only wants to lead fellow African nations in helping Sudan out of its current problems.”