An Egyptian delegation in Tripoli… Has Al-Sisi’s regime’s stance on the Libyan crisis changed?

It is more than a routine diplomat visit; it has raised many surprises and questions and prompted political analysts to discuss its implications and the goals behind it. It is the official Egyptian delegation visit to Tripoli for the first time in six years. Over the past years, General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and his regime have been known to support the forces of retired Major General Khalifa Haftar in Bani Ghazi (East), at the expense of the internationally recognized Libyan Government of National Accord forces (GNA) in Tripoli (West).

Al-Sisi’s regime’s support for Haftar came in line with the rapprochement between the Egyptian regime and the UAE government and in the face of Turkey, which supports the legitimate Libyan government in Tripoli. Still, signs of a change in attitudes suddenly appeared. Without introductions and a previously unannounced visit, the Egyptian security and political delegation arrived in the Libyan capital. The visit’s timing came as surprising as it coincided with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s visit to Tripoli. It is also surprising that the visit came a week after a visit by the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence, Major General Abbas Kamel, to Benghazi, and his meeting with Khalifa Haftar and the Speaker of Tobruk Parliament, Aqila Saleh.

The visit coincided with the Turkish Defense Minister’s visit to Tripoli, which raised more questions, especially since the latter warned in his speech to the Turkish forces, Khalifa Haftar, and his supporters, of the consequences of any attempt to target the Turkish troops in Libya. The Egyptian delegation included the Deputy Head of the General Intelligence Service, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, and some security officials in the Egyptian regime, after a boycott with the Libyan Government of National Accord since 2014. The Egyptian delegation met with Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala, and according to local newspapers, they discussed the reopening of the Egyptian Consulate in Tripoli.

The Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman, Muhammad al-Qiblawi, confirmed that the aim of the Egyptian delegation’s visit to Tripoli is to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries. For its part, the Libyan Ministry of Interior said, in a statement, that Minister Fathi Bashagha discussed with the Egyptian delegation common security challenges and ways to enhance security cooperation between the two countries.

 Al-Sisi’s regime position

The restoration of relations between the Sisi regime and the Tripoli government was seen by observers as a surprise, especially after years of Egyptian support for Haftar’s forces. While Cairo affirms its support for a political solution in Libya, the Egyptian regime has, over the past years, directed to Haftar’s political and military support. The surprise move came amid media reports indicating the turmoil in the relationship between Al-Sisi and the UAE, which Sisi has always supported its stances against Qatar and Turkey.

For his part, the Libyan Center for Research and Development director, Senussi Psikri, said that the visit of the Egyptian delegation to Tripoli means a change in the position of the Sisi regime towards Libya. In a media statement, he added that the most important reason for changing the Egyptian position is the military campaign’s failure led by Major General Khalifa Haftar against the Libyan capital, Tripoli. He indicated that Haftar’s fall into Russia’s arms embarrassed Sisi and his regime with the European and American allies.

Al-Senussi explained that the Egyptian regime no longer sees Haftar as a strong and reliable ally but has turned into a burden, so Egypt sees it important to assume a new role in Libya. He noted that the Egyptian delegation’s ask to be a secret visit is evidence of their shyness about previous stances towards Libya and its people and that they want to achieve benefits from the visit, such as developing relations with the reconciliation government.

Turkish threat

According to sources from the Libyan Government of National Accord, the Egyptian delegation had asked not to disclose any information about the visit until its completion, as it lasted for one day. The visit came hours after Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar made resounding statements while he was in Tripoli and in front of the Turkish forces present there. Akar responded to Haftar’s recent threats against Turkey and its forces, saying, “Let the criminal Haftar and his supporters know that we will consider them a legitimate target in all places after every attempt to attack our forces.”

Several months ago, the GNA succeeded in repelling a Haftar attack on the capital, Tripoli, and regained control of many cities before the fighting stopped. Last May, Operation Volcano of Fury (GNA’s forces) announced that they had taken control of Egyptian weapons and ammunition that Haftar’s forces had in the battles south of Tripoli.