Sisi’s visit to Qatar: A step towards resolving the Libyan crisis

Sisi’s visit to Qatar: A step towards resolving the Libyan crisis

Reporting from Cairo, Egypt

The recent decision of Egypt to withdraw its recognition of the Libyan National Unity Government headed by Abdel Hamid Al-Dbeibeh has sparked a controversy over this sharp shift in Cairo’s official position, especially as it has significant repercussions on Egypt’s interests in Libya, which the Al-Dbeibeh government still dominates the largest industry in here.

In September last year, Egypt signed 14 agreements worth 33 billion dollars with the government of Al-Dbeibeh, who visited Egypt at an official invitation, leading to a major shift in Egypt’s attitude towards western Libya.

Egypt also has multiple interests in Libya; some are security and strategic, and others are economic, as this neighbouring country represents a large Arab market for Egyptian labour. Egypt could also benefit greatly from the reconstruction process, given the great economic crisis it has been experiencing.

Abandoning the game of balances

The withdrawal of the Egyptian delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, from the opening session of the 158th session of the Council of the League of Arab States at the ministerial level in Cairo, while handing over the presidency of the session to Naglaa Al-Manqoush, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Unity Government, was a clear official position confirming that Cairo began to abandon the balance games that it had always had to deal with in its interests in this neighbouring country.

Al-Dbeibeh government officially lost its mandate as the political agreement effectuated expired last June.

Egypt’s position coincided with Cairo’s serious attempts to bring together the head of the Supreme Council of State in Libya, Khaled Al-Mashri, who is affiliated with the western region, and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Akila Saleh, who represents the east of the country.

Through this rapprochement, the Egyptian regime aims to reach understandings between the two parties that led to the suspended elections.

Last February, the Tobruk parliament appointed Fathi Bashagha as the prime minister, bringing Libya back to the game of competition between two governments, each of which defends its legitimacy with a specific legal and constitutional interpretation.

The crisis deepened with the term of office of the Tripoli government ended in June. Al-Dbeibeh insisted that he would hand over the executive power only to an elected government. 

 The Egyptian attempt

With the increasing rivalry between the two parties, horizon, for the presidential and legislative elections, which were originally scheduled for December 2021, has blocked, increasing the likelihood of a worsening security situation in this country.

It seems that the official Egyptian position on the Al-Dbeibeh government precedes the Egyptian delegation’s withdrawal from the Arab ministerial meeting, and even precedes the end of the government’s mandate. 

Egypt, which had previously supported Field Marshal Haftar, welcomed the decisions of the Libyan Parliament in February; therewith Fathi Pashaga was appointed as the head of the government.

The Egyptian approach, which supported Bashagha, and then supported the reaching of an understanding between Al-Mashri and Saleh, appears as a clear attempt to find some kind of consensus between East and West that would pave the way for elections and political stability.

Transformations of other players

This Egyptian attempt to achieve an understanding between East and West cannot be read separately from the attempts of influential players to achieve the same goal. It is also not possible to read the transformations of the Egyptian position, ignoring the transformations of other players.

One of the most notable transformations is the rapprochement between Turkey and the UAE, as the two countries were on opposite sides of the Libyan conflict.

Underneath this transformation, there were claims of Abu Dhabi sponsoring an unspoken agreement between Haftar and Al-Dbeibeh, the representative of the Western camp and an opponent of the UAE in an earlier period. 

What enhanced the likehood of this rapprochement was the appointment of Farhat bin Qadara, who is close to Haftar, as head of the National Oil Corporation, succeeding Mustafa Sanalla, who was close to Ankara. 

At the same time, Turkey has largely opened up to eastern Libya, where it had been fighting in the past by supporting the Government of National Accord forces during Haftar’s military campaign against the capital, Tripoli.

Ankara announced the reopening of its consulate in Benghazi.

Turkey has turned into a destination for Libyan officials from various parties, as it has recently received Al-Dbeibeh, Bashagha, Meshri and Saleh.

All this means nothing but a change of the Turkish position into a state of openness to all parties with the aim of formulating a balanced equation between the East and West fronts, taking into account their interests without ignoring other parties, some of which enjoy strong Egyptian-French support.

Arrangements to resolve the crisis

Although most observers see the visit of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Qatar, which represents a major breakthrough, especially after years of boycott between the two countries, as a visit with completely economic goals at a time when Egypt is suffering from a stifling crisis, the visit certainly had other political aspects as well.

Egypt is currently going through a repressive economic crisis that prompted Cairo to rush to the Gulf capitals to obtain financial aid in the form of investments that would help it fulfill its international obligations.

Egypt resorted to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, offering them to buy the profitable Egyptian companies in order to solve Egypt’s financial problems. Al-Sisi’s visit to Qatar was not far from this endeavour.

Although this endeavour is economic par excellence, it is unreasonable to exclude the extension of the discussions of the Egyptian President and the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to political issues.

The context in which the visit took place confirms beyond any doubt that the Egyptian and Qatari leaders discussed the situation in Libya, which is facing great difficulties in achieving a stable government due to the conflicts of the various parties in this war-torn country.

A few days before the Egyptian president’s visit, Doha received prominent Libyan officials from the opposite sides of the conflict.

On September 8, Al-Dbeibeh visited Qatar after meeting Turkish President Erdogan in Ankara. On September 11, the Emir of Qatar met Akila Saleh and Belqasim Haftar, the son of the commander-in-chief of the Libyan army.

From this point of view, Sisi’s visit, following the two visits of the Libyan officials, confirms the existence of some kind of coordination between the three capitals (Cairo – Doha – Ankara).

In light of Saleh and Al-Mashri’s visit to Cairo in mid-August, it can be said that Doha plays a mediator role between the Libyan parties in the coming period and seeks to reach an understanding between Egypt and Turkey.

These visits in recent weeks confirm that there are arrangements being made to achieve consensus between the parties of the Libyan conflict to end the state of division in a way that guarantees regional consensus.

According to an informed Egyptian source, Cairo has influence in the Libyan East camp, while Qatar has influence in the Libyan West camp.

The source stated that the visits of the parties to the conflict to the three capitals mean that efforts are being made to unify the opinions of holding elections in Libya as soon as possible.

“It seems that counter-alliances have exhausted the region. They all try to put aside their differences to reevaluate their policies. The Libyan crisis has a better chance of being resolved now”, the source added.

Islam Farag
Islam Farag is an Egyptian journalist, analyst and researcher. He is an expert on Middle East affairs and has contributed dozens of press kits on regional affairs and issues. He participated in many research projects within Egyptian governmental and non-governmental institutions. He has worked in many Egyptian and Arab press institutions as a journalist and analyst. He is interested in issues of the historic relationship of the Arab world with regional and world powers. Also he is interested in power conflicts in the middle east.

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June 2024