Tension is still rising in Libya, as many fear that the Egyptian army is entering Libya and engaging pro-Turkish forces. An escalation of all dangers.
Soon there will be a direct military confrontation between Egypt, the world’s 9th army, and Turkey, the 11th army, in the Libyan theatre? This is what many observers fear after a unanimous vote by the Egyptian Parliament on 20 July, giving President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi permission to launch a military intervention.
This apprehension is all the greater because this vote comes a few days after the Tobruk Parliament, under the authority of Marshal Haftar, a strong man from Eastern Libya – supported by Cairo – approved a text authorizing Egyptian intervention in the event of a “threat”. In addition to these significant decisions, al-Sissi has always proclaimed that the city of Sirte, still controlled by Haftar, was a red line that should not be crossed by the GNA (Government of National Unity), internationally recognized and supported militarily by Turkey.
Nevertheless, the forces loyal to the GNA of Fayez el-Sarraj, on the strength of their latest military successes, are getting closer to Sirte every day and have shown their determination to retake the city. They have even called on Marshal Haftar’s forces to leave the town and negotiate a ceasefire with the GNA.
An escalation too risky for both sides
The situation is, therefore, particularly explosive, but can it really degenerate to the point of seeing Egyptian missiles descend from Turkish drones? Not so sure, explains Kader Abderrahim, research director at the Institute for Prospective and Security in Europe, a specialist in Maghreb and Islamism, lecturer at Sciences Po Paris.
“I don’t believe in a direct confrontation between Egypt and Turkey in the Libyan theater. It’s in nobody’s interest. It would be damaging to Cairo and Ankara. For the former, because it would involve them directly in the Libyan quagmire. For the latter, because they would lose positions they’ve acquired and the advantage they gained by reversing the balance of power between East and West.”
For the IRIS researcher, oil is the main sinews of the war in Libya: “What interests everyone is the control of the oil fields in Eastern Libya.” He thus evokes the oil crescent of Sirte, which groups together the main oil terminals and its basin, which contains 70% of the country’s reserves.
“The Egyptian government already has many internal problems”
The fact that the forces sponsored by Turkey potentially challenge the control of the city pushes Cairo to bulge the chest. But even given these issues, Egypt and Turkey are unlikely to come to a confrontation, says Kader Abderrahim: “Even if the Turks do not find a compromise with Egypt, they will not engage in a conflict with them for control of the region. They will look for an energy supply elsewhere.”
And if “the whole question is to know how far Egypt is ready to go”, according to the lecturer at Sciences Po Paris, the status quo will be maintained, and Cairo will continue to support the ANL (Libyan National Army) Marshal Haftar without engaging directly, he believes. A Turkish-Russian joint declaration published on 22 July after the visit of a Russian delegation visiting Ankara also goes in the direction of preserving the status quo.
The Libyan conflict, revealing of UN inertia?
Especially since even if Egypt raises the tone in the name of its external security, the country is far from always being stable. As the Maghreb specialist explains, the Egyptian government already has many internal problems: it is highly contested, and it is unlikely that it will choose to add to this virulent opposition to external conflict.
“Egypt also has to face domestic terrorism. There is a part of the Sinai which escapes the control of Cairo, and terrorists control it, there are attacks regularly in the country. It is a volatile situation,” underlines Kader Abderrahim.
Whether it is Egypt or Turkey, a single country will not unilaterally bring peace to Libya, according to him: “to put an end to this conflict, there would need to be a real agreement between the different states involved in the battle, even if there are many.” This scenario is still difficult to imagine in the short term, as this speech has become commonplace in recent years, without producing the slightest result.
This is also, according to Kader Abderrahim, a typical example of the ineffectiveness of UN mediation. The recent resignation of the experienced Ghassan Salamé is irrefutable proof of this, according to him: “nobody listens to the United Nations anymore”, explains the researcher, for whom the Libyan conflict highlights “the stake of the renovation of the global governance”.