memri
July 2, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8828

Arab Media Supports Egypt's Threat To Intervene Militarily In Libya: Turkey's Attempts To Become A Regional Superpower Must Be Stopped

July 2, 2020
Egypt, Libya, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8828

Introduction

Fighting has recently escalated in Libya between the two sides in the country's civil war: on one side the Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, which is supported by the UN, Turkey and Qatar, and is also backed by Islamic circles in Libya, such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and on the other side the Libyan National Army, under the command of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, which is supported by Egypt, the UAE and Russia.

The Al-Sarraj government appears to have the upper hand at the moment, mostly due to Turkey's growing military intervention in Libya, which includes airlifts of fighters, weapons, drones and armored vehicles, in direct violation of the UN arms embargo on bringing weapons into the country. The Al-Sarraj forces and their allies have regained full control of the capital, Tripoli; captured considerable additional territory, and even managed to advance on the city of Sirte and the Al-Jufra area to the south of it, a strategic area connecting West and East Libya and the gateway to the oil-rich eastern regions. Al-Jufra is also the site of an airbase and a strategic operations room of General Haftar's forces.

This escalation on the ground, and the advance of Al-Sarraj's forces, with Turkish military assistance, towards the eastern regions of the country adjacent to the border with Egypt, intensified the existing tension between Turkey and the Arab countries, especially Egypt, which sees this advance as a threat to its western border. Turkey's actions in the Middle East have in general been a source of concern for many Arab countries, who view them as an attempt by Turkey to establish itself as regional power, which poses a threat to their stability.[1] The recent setbacks of Haftar's forces thus increased concerns in the UAE – the principal backer of these forces – and in Egypt, prompting Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi to issue the June 6, 2020 Cairo Declaration, a proposal for a ceasefire and a political solution in Libya. The declaration, issued by Al-Sisi in the presence of  Gen. Haftar and the head of the pro-Haftar parliament in East Libya, Aguila Saleh, also calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Libya, including the Turkish ones.[2]

When his initiative was rejected and Al-Sarraj's forces continued to advance toward the Sirte-Al-Jufra line, Al-Sisi issued a threat from an Egyptian military base on the Libyan border, saying that  Sirte-Al-Jufra frontline was a "red line," the crossing of which could lead to direct Egyptian military intervention in Libya.


Source: alarabiya.net, June 22, 2020

Many Arab countries, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, hurried to express support for the Egyptian position. Some of them claimed that Egyptian military intervention would be legitimate based on the Joint Defense Treaty signed by several Arab countries in 1950.[3] Even Syria, which was suspended from the Arab League in November 2011, joined these expressions of support, although it has no official diplomatic relations with most of the Arab countries, including Egypt.[4]

Furthermore, at Egypt's request, on June 23, 2020 the Arab League foreign ministers held a video conference to discuss the situation in Libya.[5] Their concluding statement stressed the importance of a political solution for the Libyan crisis, while expressing support for the Cairo Declaration and opposition to any foreign intervention in Libya. Some states expressed reservations about parts of the statement, including Qatar, Tunis and Somalia, as well as the GNA.[6]

According to reports, the Arab Parliament, subordinate to the Arab League, approved a united Arab strategy calling, among other measures, for the activation of the Joint Defense Council, a body established by the Joint Defense Treaty for formulating military measures. This strategy is to be submitted to the Arab League Council for approval.[7]

The Arab support for Al-Sisi's position was expressed in numerous press articles, which favored Egyptian military intervention as a way to block Turkey's attempts to impose its hegemony on Arab countries.

Al-Sisi reviews Egypt's military forces on th Western border (Source: Channel 1, Egypt, June 20, 2020)

This report reviews Egypt's threats to intervene militarily in Libya as well as the expressions of support for its position in the Arab media.

Al-Sisi: The GNA's Advance Toward Sirte-Al-Jufra Is A Red Line; If Necessary We Will Intervene In Libya

On June 20, 2020, Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi delivered a speech at the Sidi Barrani military base in the Matrouh governorate in western Egypt, near the Libyan border, in which he threatened to intervene militarily in Libya. Addressing the heads of the Libyan tribes, he said, "We are prepared to help. Bring us young Libyan tribesmen and we will train and arm them under your supervision… We must stop [the fighting] at the [Sirte-Al-Jufra] line, and hold talks and negotiations to find a political solution for the Libya crisis. If some people think that they may cross the Sirte-Jufra line, this would be a crossing of the 'red line' as far as we are concerned… We did not intervene [before] because we did not want to go down in history as people who intervened in the affairs of your country when you were weak. However, things are now different. Today, pan-Arab security, and the national security of Egypt and Libya, is shaken.

"We must understand this, make sacrifices and take firm and honorable positions… Whoever thinks our restraint is [a sign of] weakness is mistaken. Any direct intervention by Egypt would enjoy international legitimacy, whether by force of the U.N. Charter that guarantees the right to self-defense, or through the parliament, the only legitimate authority elected by the Libyan people.[8] The goals of such [intervention] would be first of all to defend [Egypt’s] western border and its strategic depth from the threats of the terrorist and mercenary militias and thereby prevent the spilling of the Libyan people's blood."[9]


Al-Sisi at the military base in western Egypt: The Sirte-Al-Jufra frontline is a red line (Source: Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', Egypt, June 20, 2020)

To view a MEMRI TV Clip of Al-Sisi's statements, click below:

The Foreign Ministry of the UAE issued a similar statement, stressing his country's support for Egypt's efforts to promote a political solution for the Libya crisis, and its "solidarity with Egypt and its support for any measure it takes to defend its security and stability…"[12] Bahrain and Jordan issued statements in a similar vein as well.[13]

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem explained his country's position, saying: "Libya is a victim of foreign ambitions and intervention, chief of them the aggression of Turkey, which covets [Libya's] natural resources… Syria supports the [Libyan] National Army under the command of Gen. Khalifa Haftar and the [state] institutions in East Libya… It also stands with [our] brothers in Egypt in defending their national security and the Arab national security. If [Egypt] requires any Syrian assistance, we are at its disposal, regardless of their positions on our issue."[14] 

It should be stressed that some officials and activists in Libya itself expressed support for an Egyptian intervention. Four days after Al-Sisi's speech, the head of the East Libya parliament, Aguila Saleh, said: "If the [GNA] militias cross the Sirte-Al-Jufra line, the Libyan people will ask Egypt to intervene to defend our joint national security." He added, "We trust that Egypt will not forsake us or abandon us."[15] Activists in Benghazi in East Libya put up posters of Al-Sisi with the caption, "Egypt -- the heart of the Arab nation."[16]


Poster of Al-Sisi in Benghazi: "Egypt – the heart of the Arab nation" (Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', Egypt, June 30, 2020)

Articles In Egyptian Dailies: If Necessary, The Egyptian Army Will Teach "The Erdogan Army" A Bitter Lesson

Egypt's threats to intervene militarily in Libya also found expression in press articles, which, at the same time, stressed that Egypt prefers to exhaust the diplomatic options in Libya before turning to the military option. Dandrawy Al-Hawary, acting director of the pro-regime Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', boasted in his June 21, 2020 column that the Egyptian army would teach Turkey a lesson on Libyan soil: "The Egyptian army is waiting for the Turkish army in Libya. If [Turkish President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan has the courage to send his regular army to Libya instead of using the global team of terrorists and mercenaries, we will remind him of the bitter defeats that resulted from the arrival of the world's best soldiers, who reached the very boundaries of the Turkish capital and taught the Ottoman army bitter and painful lessons in the art of warfare.

"Yes, the honorable Egyptian army is waiting for the thieving and insolent Turkish army on Libyan soil, for Libya is a sister-state and a natural part of Egypt's strategic depth and national security. Let's see who has greater and more decisive influence… We will teach Erdogan's army… a lesson he will not forget and make him drink barrels of bitter defeat."[17]

In another column the next day, Al-Hawary wrote: "The [June 20] speech by President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi put things in motion, struck a powerful chord with  in the entire Arab street, and gladdened [the heart of] every honorable Arab citizen who is seeing Erdogan and his regime rampage across the Arab homeland – whether in Iraq, in Syria or in Libya… Every paragraph in Al-Sisi's speech delivered a clear and firm message to anyone who dares to undermine Arab and Egyptian national security, namely that the Arabs and Egyptians have a shield and a very sharp sword that can cut off tongues and defeat anyone who thinks of crossing the red lines. Egypt's patience does not stem from weakness. It is the patience of a strong and restrained [country] that seeks stability and wants to exhaust the political, diplomatic and legal means [before taking up arms]. Egypt is not a belligerent country. It does not interfere in the affairs of others, and the doctrine of its army is [based on] defending the Arab and Egyptian national security, rather than attacking other countries or invading them…   

"We say to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and to his advisor Yasin Aktay that when our brothers in Libya hear the speech of the Egyptian president they do not need a translator, whereas your speeches, O insolent Erdogan, require a whole army of translators. This proves that Egypt and Libya have a bond of blood that compels the Egyptians to defend their brothers, whereas the [only] thing linking the Turks and the Libyans is disgrace, humiliation and bitter bloodshed…"[18]

Dr. Mohsen Salameh, board chairman of the Al-Ahram Foundation, also stressed in a June 22 article that Egypt will not tolerate any threat on its Western border. He wrote: "[On June 20]  President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi stressed… to the soldiers and officers of our armed forces, that Egypt's restraint is neither weakness nor hesitancy, but is the trait of a wise regime that does not act hastily or impulsively, and which considers every step before taking it… [In contrast], other countries are exposing their ugly countenance: they are bluntly interfering in the [Libya] conflict, supporting terrorist militias and bringing in mercenaries as part of a poisonous plan to divide Libya and to repeat the Syrian scenario there.

"At this stage, Egypt had no choice but to make a statement and declare to the world its desire for peace – for the security of Libya is part of its [own] national security. Egypt is not interfering in a matter not its own. It has a 1,200-km border with Libya and Libya's security is linked to Egypt's security. That is why it cannot allow anyone to compromise its Western border…

"The Egyptian army is one of the 10 strongest and most important armies in the world – according to international rankings, not Egyptian ones. At the same time, it is an army [devoted to] defense and guarding the peace, not attacking others. But when others try to harm Egypt's national security, there is no choice but to take a clear and firm [position], like the one [expressed by Al-Sisi in his speech] at the Barrani military base"[19]


Cartoon in UAE daily: Egypt puts out the fire Turkey has ignited in Libya (source: Al-Ittihad, UAE, June 29, 2020)

Articles In Saudi Dailies: The Egyptian Army Can Defeat The New Ottomanism

Support for Al-Sisi's position was also expressed in the Saudi government press. Jamil Al-Dhiabi, editor of the Saudi daily 'Okaz, wrote that Erdogan's "new Ottomanism" targets all the Arab countries, but that the Egyptian army can defeat it: "Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi took a courageous Arab position… when he declared Egypt's willingness to intervene militarily in Libya in order to halt the expansion efforts of Erdogan's new Ottomanism, which targets not only Libya and Egypt but aims to expand and impose its hegemony on [all] Arab countries.

"June 20 [the day of Al-Sisi's speech] will be a decisive milestone in the conflict between the [ideal of] sovereign Arab nation-states and the plots to spread chaos and destruction that cultivate delusions of a Muslim Brotherhood caliphate supported by 'Sick Man' Erdogan. [20]

"In the name of his country and of Arab national security, Egyptian President Al-Sisi challenged the Turks' terrorist hastiness, financed by the 'regime of the two Hamads' [an epithet for Qatari regime],[21] which is Ankara's greatest supporter in [its efforts to] create chaos in Libya…

"Clearly, the Egyptian army, which has gained experience in warfare since the 1940s, can stop the Turkish plan in Libya. It must also be noted that, despite the division within it, the Libyan people opposes the new Ottoman occupation and the establishment and implementation of MB-Erdogan plan…

"The sovereignty of Arab countries, and their responsibility for their people's fate, are fundamental  components of the comprehensive Arab national security  plan, which, in turn, is an integral part of global peace and security. Hence, the courageous decision of President Al-Sisi was met with substantial support and satisfaction in Saudi Arabia… the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan… The experienced and battle-ready Egyptian army  can no doubt defeat the new Ottomanism, just as it put an end to the [Muslim] Brotherhood's delusional [aspirations] to rule Egypt. Moreover, the Arab world will refuse the leadership of Ankara, Tehran, or anyone else. Its loyal sons will shatter the satanic plots of the invaders."[22]

'Okaz columnist 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Turiri wrote: "Egypt now has no option except the military option. Just as, before [Operation] Decisive Storm,[23] Saudi Arabia had no political option in Yemen and [was compelled] to confront the Iranian plan, Egypt is now confronting the Turkish plan in Libya. Both plans are financed by Qatar in some manner or other… We are now witnessing a war that has been forced upon us… This means that an Arab [defense] plan and a [joint] Arab army are no longer luxuries. For we are living in a decade of challenges and of a bid to divide the region [by means of a] new Sykes-Picot agreement that was falsely called 'the [Arab] Spring'. This [Arab Spring] turned Syria into a backward country, Lebanon into a bankrupt one, and Libya into a divided one. Today we must formulate a joint Arab defense doctrine, in light of the completion of the aggressive non-Arab plans – for Turkey is promising Iran a piece of the Libyan pie, while Iran is giving Turkey a role in Yemen by means of the [Muslim] Brotherhood there. Turkey and Iran both have immense economic problems and have found the desired [solution] in the idea of stealing the resources of the Arab countries…"[24]

UAE Daily: Egypt Wants A Political Solution In Libya While Turkey Promotes Ruin And Destruction

In the UAE, the main supporter of Haftar's forces, the government daily Al-Ittihad likewise published an editorial stressing that Turkey's military provocations in Libya are an affront not only to Egypt but to all Arabs who value their sovereignty, adding that the Arab weakness that has enabled the Turkish intervention will not continue. It stated: "The Arab [world] may be experiencing its worst period of weakness, but that does not mean that it will leave the [Arab] countries [as prey] for regional ambitions disguised as aid, whose main goal is to take control of these countries and their decision-making. Libya is a clear example of this, for Turkey, which controls the decision-making of the Al-Sarraj government, is not pushing for a peaceful solution. Instead, it has declared its support for a takeover of the strategic city of Sirte and of the Al-Jufra region to the south of it. That is what Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi openly warned about and regarded as a red line, with the broad support of the Arab world.

"This is a direct Turkish provocation that harms not only Egypt, but every Arab citizen who is zealous about the sovereignty of his country [and wishes to prevent it] from becoming currency in the hands of ambitious, interest-driven countries. While Egypt wants a ceasefire and a peaceful solution, Turkey incites only ruin and destruction. [This is evident] first of all from its support of the MB militias in Tripoli, [and also] from its sending mercenaries who are subject to its blackmail from Syria to Libya. The UAE supports Egypt and the Arab and international consensus, which underscores the importance of stopping the hostilities between the sides in the Libyan conflict, without delay and without preconditions, and launching a comprehensive political process, which is a crucial condition for achieving peace and stability… If [Turkey] is counting on the Arab weakness to continue, that is surely a bad bet."[25]

Writing in the UAE-based daily Al-Khalij, Bahraini writer Hassan Madan argued that Egypt is entitled to defend its security from the Turkish threat and in fact has a central role in confronting this threat. He wrote: "Turkey, which is geographically far from Libya and does not share a border with it, has allowed itself to interfere in that country's affairs and take over its resources, by sending mercenaries to Libya from Syria and other countries, as well as military advisors and UAVs. [Given this situation,] how can [anyone claim that] a large and central country in the region and a pillar of Arab security, namely Egypt, which shares Libya's history, language and culture and has bonds of blood and brotherhood with it, does not have the right to defend its security from this blunt Turkish threat? 

"This is no laughing matter. This is a regional expansion plan, whose scope and goals the new Ottomans in Ankara do not [even bother to] conceal… Our modern history saw great sacrifices made by our peoples to rid themselves of the loathsome Ottoman occupation. This plan of Erdogan's is just a new Ottoman version [of this occupation], which aims at reviving the imperialist dream that the peoples [of the region] shook off and which is now obsolete. Egypt has a central and decisive role in confronting this plan."[26]


Cartoon in UAE daily: The Turkish serpent makes its way towards Libya (Al-Khalij, UAE, June 23, 2020)

Editor Of Syrian Al-Watan Daily: We Stand With Egypt Against Erdogan's Terror Machine

Waddah 'Abd Rabbo, editor of the Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is close to the Assad regime, expressed full support for Egypt in light of the threats it faces from Turkey and others – and this despite Syria's anger at Egypt for not renewing its diplomatic relations with Syria.[27] He wrote: "A certain element is now threatening Egypt's security and stability. Despite our complete confidence in our Second Army, the Egyptian army,[28]  which is confronting the MB terror in Sinai, defending its Western border from the gangs of the criminal [Turkish president] Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and waging a campaign in southern [Egypt] to secure a water [supply] for tens of millions of Egyptians,[29] we in Syria can only stand with Egypt and condemn the terrorist threat it faces, [a threat] that we Syrians have been suffering for over a decade. We have not forgotten that many Egyptians stood with us and expressed solidarity with the Syrian leadership and people as they coped with the plans of the West and  its 'Arab' lackeys, who were acting to destroy Syria, divide it, kill its people, expel them and subject them to Western dictates – but failed to achieve [their aims].

"True, we are critical of Egypt, and expected it to take [certain] measures, even if symbolic ones, like raising the level of diplomatic representation between our countries. This should not be impossible for a country of Egypt's size, historical [importance] and weight. After all, we did not ask it to confront the Western countries for the sake of the Syrians. But despite this criticism, faced with the question of whether we are for Egypt or against it, we [Syrians], both the people and the leadership, surely stand with Egypt in its confrontation of Erdogan's terror machine. We stand with the Egyptian people [in its efforts] to ensure its food and water security, and with the Egyptian army in confronting every threat to its territory and borders. This matter is not subject to debate, for our history is one, our struggle is one, and the honor  of the Egyptian people is part of the honor of every Syrian…"[30]

 

[1] In recent years Turkey has increased its military involvement in several Arab countries, especially in Syria and Libya, which are experiencing civil wars. In late 2019 Turkey signed a security memorandum of understanding with the Libyan GNA permitting a Turkish military presence in Libya. The two sides also signed  a maritime agreement, based on which Turkey and the GNA have claimed large parts of the Mediterranean, thereby threatening the energy initiatives of several surrounding countries, including Egypt. Furthermore, Turkey's and Qatar's support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt and the Gulf countries have designated as a terrorist organization, is likewise perceived as an attempt to destabilize those countries and as part of Turkey's bid to position itself as a regional power.

[2] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), June 6, 2020.

[3] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), June 23, 2020. According to reports, the East Libya parliament has also stated that an activation of the joint treaty is called for (alwafd.news, June 21, 2020).

[4] The only Arab governments that currently have diplomatic relations with Syria are the UAE, which has reopened its embassy in Damascus, and Haftar's government in East Libya. Syria's support for Haftar is part of its conflict with Turkey, which has captured territory in northwestern Syria as well as a strip of land in the east of the country.

[5] According to a June 23 report in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, prior to the meeting Qatar and Al-Sarraj's GNA made efforts to ensure that no request would be made at the conference to activate the Joint Defense Treaty, and were apparently successful, since no such decision was taken. It should also be noted that, since 2015, President Al-Sisi has been pushing to establish a joint Arab military force, which would defend Egypt from the war in Libya. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1202, Egypt-Saudi Arabia Relations: Substantial Rifts Despite Shared Basic Interests, November 11, 2015.

[6]Arabic.cnn.com, June 23, 2020. It should also be noted that, on the day before President Al-Sisi's speech, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abu Al-Gheit published an article in the Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat in which he claimed that the area suffers from "regional bullying" by Iran, Turkey, Ethiopia and Israel, who he said were seeking to gain a foothold in Arab countries. He urged the Arabs to formulate a joint security strategy in coordination with the Arab League (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, June 19, 2020).

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 29, 2020; Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), June 28, 2020.

[8] This refers to the Libyan House of Representatives, currently based in the east of the country, recognized by the UN on the basis of the 2015 Skhirat Agreement.

[9] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), June 20, 2020.

[10] Raialyoum.com, June 21, 2020.

[11] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), June 21, 2020.

[12] Al-Khalij (UAE), June 21, 2020.

[13] Bahrain's Foreign Ministry released an official statement, whereas Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi called his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry to express Jordan's support for Egypt in light of the threats it is facing (raialyoum.com, alarabiya.net, June 21, 2020).

[14] Sana.sy, June 23, 2020.

[15] Raialyoum.com, June 24, 2020.

[16] (Egypt), June 30, 2020.

[17] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), June 21, 2020.

[18] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), June 22, 2020.

[19] Gate.ahram.org.eg, June 22, 2020.

[20] A reference to the expression "the sick man on the Bosphorus", which was a European epithet for the Ottoman Empire in its final days.

[21]  A reference to former Qatari emir Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani and former prime minister Hamad bin Jassim.

[22]  'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), June 21, 2020.

[23] The military campaign carried out by a coalition of Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in Yemen. Launched in March 2015, it aims to liberate the country from the Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and other regions.

[24]  'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), June 22, 2020.

[25]  Al-Ittihad (UAE), June 23, 2020.

[26]  Al-Khalij (UAE), June 24, 2020.

[28]  This is an allusion to the United Arab Republic, a political union formed by Egypt and Syria in 1958, which existed until 1961. The union also included the creation of a joint military force, consisting of the First Army, which comprised Syrian troops, and the Second and Third Armies, which were Egyptian.

[29] A reference to Egypt's conflict with Ethiopia over the Al-Nahda Dam on the Nile, which can compromise Egypt's water supply.

[30]  Al-Watan (Syria), June 22, 2020.

Share this Report:

HELP BRIDGE THE LANGUAGE GAP – DONATE TO MEMRI’S 2020 SUMMER CAMPAIGN