The Turkey-Libya alliance disturbs Egypt

Turkey’s announcement of a new military agreement with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) has raised Egyptian-Greek concerns.

On the same day of the announcement, Egypt rushed to contact Greece and Cyprus to discuss the signing of two memorandums of understanding with the Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj on security cooperation and maritime areas.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the fact that Turkish ministers signed two memorandums of understanding with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in the field of security and maritime cooperation.

Egyptian media, loyal to General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s regime, strongly attacked the agreement, describing it as “a grave threat to Egypt,” because it opens air and sea space to the Turkish army in order to confront the national army (the eastern Libya militias) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry considered that this agreement is not legal and it cannot be recognised. 

Cairo maintained that Article VIII of the Skhirat political agreement on Libya, which the Libyans accepted, defines the powers vested in the Council of Ministers.

That article says that the Minister’s Council as a whole, not the Prime Minister alone, has the power to conclude international agreements. 

Cairo points out that the cabinet is no longer complete after the withdrawal of Khalifa Haftar (and his parliament) from the Skhirat agreement and the GNA.

The agreement comes a few days or weeks before a conference in Berlin on Libya, “so there is a race between the actors in the region to take steps to establish their position in the negotiations.”

The Egyptian moves and statements reflected a major upset about the Turkish-Libyan agreement because the Egyptian regime was surprised that the Turkish army could suddenly use the air and sea space of its western neighbour.

Relations between Egypt and Turkey have witnessed great tensions since the military overthrow of the late Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, where Ankara considered the move a military coup, and its relationship with the new Egyptian regime has deteriorated significantly.

But in fact, it was Egyptian policies over the years that have driven the GNA toward Turkey. The GNA has tried for years not to lose the axis of Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, but the three countries have been supporting Haftar without borders.

At first, the GNA was silent on Egypt’s support for Haftar, hoping that it was to confront Islamist militant groups in eastern Libya, which threaten western Egypt.

But after these groups were liquidated, Egyptian support for Haftar’s militias increased to attack the Libyan capital Tripoli controlled by the GNA.

Cairo wanted Haftar’s militias to take control of the capital, and all of Libya, and to repeat the experience of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The best option for Cairo is to have a strong military general in control of Libya, who is completely hostile to Islamist groups, and does not establish any democracy that embarrasses al-Sisi’s regime.

Cairo did not accept any rapprochement with the GNA, because it was not hostile to Qatar, Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all the Islamist forces.

The Egyptian regime followed the policy of former US President George W. Bush when he said: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

But that policy pushed some neutral forces into the ranks of enemies, rather than attracting them as friends.

For example, this policy has pushed the new Sudanese government to take tough positions against the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt.

The Libyan GNA also tried not to lose Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as to maintain a good relationship with Turkey, Qatar and its Islamist allies inside Libya.

But in the end, the GNA found only Turkish military support and Qatari financial funding to counter heavy support for Haftar’s militias.

Cairo has mobilised both Greece and Cyprus to confront the GNA-Turkey agreement, claiming that this agreement threatens their water security as well.

But the problem is that the Egyptian or Greek Cypriot opposition will remain powerless to take any legal or real steps.

Legally, Egypt will not be able to appeal to the Security Council or the United Nations to challenge the agreement, because the agreement is not an international agreement or an international treaty, but only a memorandum of understanding.

Cairo will not be able to mobilise international action because the parties have not deposited the treaty with the United Nations. If they do, Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus will have the right to object to the UN.

In practice, the Egyptian army is not ready to face a highly qualified army, like the Turkish army, especially since the Egyptian army has recently changed its training method and adopted a militia strategy and small groups, not large armies.

Recently, Turkey has been self-sufficient in manufacturing a number of its weapons locally and the Turkish army has developed naval weapons and drones.

In fact, Cairo thought it would support Haftar’s militias to attack the GNA and that al-Sarraj would not find any international support in return.

The GNA has repeatedly declared that planes bombing the outskirts of the Libyan capital Tripoli are Emirati drones and that it takes off and refuels from Egyptian airports.

Cairo did not take clear policies to maintain its relationship with the GNA.

Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia have also thrown their weight behind international support for Haftar, as what happened with France, for example.

In short, the GNA tried not to lose Cairo but found no ally except in Ankara.

Al-Sisi’s regime is now reaping what it has cultivated for years, a military general in eastern Libya and an internationally recognised government in western Libya which is an ally with its enemy.