Egypt, West reaching deadlock over Libya?

Sunday 13/11/2016
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) meets with UN Special Envoy for Libya Martin Kobler, in Cairo, Egypt, last April. (AFP)

Cairo - Egypt has been unable to persuade the international community to lift a 2011 UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya, diplo­matic sources said.
The international community is also failing to convince Cairo to of­fer enough political support to the internationally recognised Govern­ment of National Accord (GNA), which is headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, the same sources added.
UN Special Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler, who was in Cairo in Octo­ber to meet with Egyptian Foreign Ministry and Arab League officials, said, “There are 20 million pieces of weapons in Libya already.”
A weak Libyan state and a weak army is nightmarish for Egypt, a country that has been most affected by the unrest in Libya, political ana­lysts said.
“Libya is a national security issue for Egypt,” said political analyst Ab­del Monem Halawa. “Western coun­tries have vested interests in Libya’s oil, which is why they are with who­ever controls this oil, regardless of Libya’s security in general.”
Libya, which shares a 1,200km border with Egypt, has been Egypt’s most serious national security men­ace since 2011 after the Libyans rose against longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi. The oil-rich North Afri­can state has been torn by conflicts among rival militias since Qaddafi’s downfall, which allowed for the Islamic State (ISIS) to take root in Libya.
The GNA was appointed in Janu­ary to unite the Libyans.
Egypt, which has been at war against political Islam since 2013, has reservations about the Presi­dential Council formed by the Sar­raj government because the council includes Islamists.
From the beginning, Egypt has offered clandestine support to east­ern Libya’s army, which is headed by General Khalifa Haftar, a former Qaddafi army officer.
Backing Haftar’s army features highly in Egypt’s talks with West­ern countries but Cairo’s failure to convince other governments to lift the arms embargo on Libya leaves Egypt alone in its support of Haf­tar’s army.
“This is why Cairo has to unof­ficially support Haftar,” said Saad al-Zant, president of the Centre for Strategic and Political Studies think-tank. “Libya needs arms bad­ly to impose order in it and protect its own borders.”
Libya has been the origin of most of the arms ending up in the hands of Islamist militants fighting the Egyptian Army in the Sinai penin­sula, the Egyptian government said.
Egypt has been locked in a guer­rilla war with Islamist militants, who in 2014 swore allegiance to ISIS. The militants have inflicted heavy damage but the army keeps scoring successes against them.
In July 2015, ISIS Sinai launched coordinated offensives against 15 army posts to seize Sinai territory and declare it the capital of its cali­phate in the Egyptian peninsula.
The Arab League is stepping in to bring the Libyans together, Arab League spokesman Mahmoud Afifi said.
“The Arab League will also seek to secure the necessary internation­al and regional support to Libya so that the country can move ahead on the road to a political settlement,” he said.
On November 10th, the league ap­pointed Tunisian diplomat Slahed­dine Jemmali as its envoy to Libya.
Egypt, meanwhile, will continue to push for a stronger Libyan Army and a lifting of the arms embargo on Libya, experts said.
They added that Egypt cannot stand idly by while Libya descends deeper into chaos.
“Egypt has a security and stra­tegic interest in backing Haftar’s army, even if this makes some West­ern governments angry,” Zant said. “Haftar is the only person capa­ble of imposing order in Libya and fighting ISIS and other radical mili­tias in this country.”

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