With security concerns, Egypt could mediate Libya crisis

Friday 06/11/2015
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) and his Libyan counterpart Mohamed al-Dairi in Cairo.

Tunis - With UN efforts to produce a set­tlement in Libya foundering be­cause of the two sides’ refusal to compromise, Egypt could end up as an arbiter of the crisis on its western border.

The only people not lobbying Cairo, unsurprisingly, are those in Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) who regard Egypt as an en­emy and look instead for support from Turkey, Qatar and Algeria.

Egypt’s interest in Libya is first and foremost security and pre­venting either the Islamic State (ISIS) or the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power in a neighbouring country. Before heading to Lon­don for an official visit, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made it clear that ensuring Libya’s stability would be a main subject of conversation with the British government.

The Egyptians know, however, that Libyans remain deeply suspi­cious of their eastern neighbour but there has still been a parade of Libyan officials and others in­volved in the Libyan dispute rec­onciliation process heading to Cairo.

On November 3rd, Faiez Seraj, designated by Libya dialogue ne­gotiators to lead a national unity government, was in Cairo meeting EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Also in Cairo discuss­ing Libya was UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon, whose aim was to persuade Egyptian leaders to pressure the Libyan House of Rep­resentatives (HoR) to accept the government of National Accord.

Ageela Saleh Gwaider, president of the HoR, was in Cairo trying to persuade the Egyptians to support his side.

Given that situation, it was not surprising that the Tripoli authori­ties claimed that the head of the HoR air force had called for Egypt to intervene militarily in the coun­try.

In Cairo, Leon offered Gwaider an amendment in a bid to ensure the proposed deal’s acceptance. He suggested that the Presidency Council governing Libya until a new constitution is in place, once seen as a six-person body, should total nine people — three each from the country’s three historic prov­inces of Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east and Fezzan in the south. Under the proposal, the council would consist of the prime minister, five deputy prime minis­ters and three senior ministers.

Leon’s nod to the federalist mood has gained support within the HoR. One of its objections to the dialogue deal had been that the six-member Presidency Council was dominated by the west, with three members from Tripolitania, two from Cyrenaica and one from Fezzan. Following Leon’s new of­fer, the HoR set up a 30-member committee to study the plan.

While Leon continues to try to come up with a deal acceptable to both sides, it became clear that it is one thing getting agreement on a government of National Accord but an entirely different matter ensuring security in Tripoli and the rest of the country.

On November 1st, one of the militias in the capital, the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade, led by Hashem Tajouri, abducted the Tripoli government’s planning minister, accusing him of corrup­tion. When Tripoli Prime Minis­ter Khalifa al-Ghwell ordered Ta­jouri’s arrest, the brigade attacked the prime ministry and, according to reports, managed to enter it and make off with government papers.

The incident is seen as underlin­ing a fundamental flaw in the UN peace process: It has focused on achieving a government of nation­al unity while the problem from the start has been security.

While politicians and militias squabble, the plight of ordinary Libyans worsens. Many are facing soaring inflation even though they aren’t being paid. The price of a loaf of bread has more than tripled and the value of the dinar contin­ues to fall despite threats to black market dealers from some Tripoli militias. Cairo is yet to offer a solu­tion to Libya’s economic crisis.