Libya's Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, is supported by the UN and by Turkey and Qatar, and receives backing from Islamist circles in Libya such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The GNA has recently signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with Turkey concerning maritime and security matters; under these MOUs Turkey and the GNA have claimed large parts of the Mediterranean, in disregard of the rights of other Mediterranean countries such as Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, and Israel. Furthermore, the maritime MOUs threaten potential projects of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, comprising these four countries and others. One such project is the laying of a gas pipeline from them to Italy.
The MOUs enraged Al-Sarraj's rivals in Libya, headed by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country and who has declared a decisive campaign to liberate Tripoli. Haftar's Chief of Staff of the Naval Forces, Maj.-Gen. Faraj Al-Mahdawi, told Greece's Alpha TV that he intends to sink any Turkish ship approaching Libyan shores.
Criticism of the MOUs was also voiced by Libya's neighbor Egypt, which supports Khalifa Haftar, as does the UAE, Egypt's ally in the Gulf. Egypt, which has a bitter conflict with Turkey over the latter's support of the Muslim Brotherhood, regards the MOUs as illegitimate Turkish intervention in the region aimed at destabilizing Egypt and harming its economic interests, and at preventing the implementation of natural gas agreements between Egypt and its Mediterranean neighbors, among them Greece, Cyprus, and Israel.
At a Cairo meeting between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, the two announced that the Turkey-GNA agreement is illegitimate. Similarly, Egyptian parliamentary speaker Ali Abd Al-'Aal said: "Egypt will not stand by with arms folded against any threat to its maritime interests... We will not allow any unreasonable step to be taken on Egyptian territory or near its air, land, or maritime borders." Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi referred indirectly to the tension surrounding the Turkey-GNA MOUs, saying at the World Youth Forum in Egypt: "Libya is connected to Egypt's national security, and it would have been appropriate for Egypt to intervene directly in Libya, and [Egypt] is capable of doing so. But it did not take this step, with the aim of preserving fraternal relations with the Libyan people, because they would not forget such direct intervention in their security."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself confirmed Egypt's and Greece's apprehensions in an interview with the state-run TRT TV. He said: "Southern Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, and Israel will not be able to establish a natural gas pipeline in this region without Turkey's consent." Also in the interview, he revealed Turkey's determination to stand alongside the GNA forces, and clarified, against the backdrop of the MOUs, that should Turkey be asked by the GNA to send troops to Libya, it was Turkey's right to do so.
Egypt's anger over the Turkey-GNA MOUs was expressed in articles in the Egyptian press. Many columnists attacked them, calling them a dangerous Turkish move aimed at destabilizing Egypt and dragging the region toward war. Similar criticism came from writers from Egyptian allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who said that the MOUs were a way of actualizing Erdogan's vision of a revival of Turkish Ottoman-style hegemony.
The following are examples of articles in the Egyptian, Saudi, and UAE press about the Turkey-GNA MOUs:
Pro-Al-Sisi Journalist: The Turkey-GNA MOUs Are Aimed At Destabilizing Egypt And Preventing It From Becoming A Regional Energy Hub
Muhammad Yousuf Al-'Azizi, a journalist identified with the Egyptian regime, wrote on Gomhuriaonline.com on December 3: "The approach of the Egyptian decision-makers was not vague... They understand the magnitude of the challenges Egypt will face once it becomes a regional energy hub...
"Who are all those sanctimonious, arrogant, resentful, and agenda-driven people who deny every Egyptian achievement [and ask], Why are we buying all these weapons, the Rafale planes, Mistral warships, submarines, advanced areal defense systems and state-of-the art missiles?... What is the purpose of the Mohamed Naguib military base in northwestern [Egypt], which is like a whole [separate] army?... Why the [Egyptian] rush to sign a [maritime] boundaries agreement with Cyprus and Greece before anything else? And why, despite the dire state of the homeland, were the authorities in a rush to complete the [development of the] Zohr gas field and to double the speed [of its development]?
"These questions were answered by the clown in Istanbul [Erdogan] and the puppet Government of the [National] Accord in Tripoli, in Libya [headed by Al-Sarraj], [a government] whose legitimacy ended with its recent signing of an illegitimate and illegal security-maritime agreement allowing Turkey to establish a military base in Libya and to arm Tripoli's terror militias. The agreement also allows the two countries to delimit their boundaries in the Mediterranean, so that Turkey can pounce on the gas in that sea with unprecedented brutality [unrecognized] in maritime and international law!
"In any case, Turkey is unable to confront Egypt in the sea, for it is aware of the capabilities of the Egyptian navy and also of the Egyptian air force... In my opinion, Turkey is merely trying to keep Egypt preoccupied, distracting it so as to prevent it from carrying out further drilling and improving the output of the Zohr [gas] fields – and thus [weakening] Egypt as a regional gas hub, to Qatar's advantage.
"The most dangerous aspect [of the entire affair] is the fundamental aim of Turkey's calculated move in cooperation with Al-Sarraj – to expand the terror base in Libya and transform it into a center where ISIS can regroup and start to spread again towards Egypt's western border."
Columnist In Egyptian Daily Al-Watan: Erdogan Appears To Be Trying To Start A War – And U.S. President Trump Supports Him
Dr. Muhammad Al-Basyouni wrote in his December 12 column in the Egyptian daily Al-Watan: "[Erdogan's] insolent and reckless behavior has reached the point of declaring that he will intervene militarily in Libya to defend Al-Sarraj and his gang of terrorists against the will of the Libyan people, against the Libyan national army, led by General Haftar, and against the Libyan tribes, which constitute the legitimate Libyan parliament...
"Erdogan's hostility and attacks are thus directed at everyone at once! Erdogan's desire to spill the blood of Muslim, Maronite and Christian civilians, which he inherited from his Ottoman ancestors, is now seeking a new arena of war, killing and destruction, after it has already destroyed Syria and northern Iraq and killed and exiled millions of Syrians, Iraqis, Kurds and Armenians. Now Erdogan is targeting the soil and people of our sister[-country] Libya, so as to ignite a deadly war, based on clear religious and racist parameters, that will surely also spill over into Algeria and Morocco, and before them to Tunisia.
"It seems that [U.S.] President Trump supports this criminal direction of Turkey's, while [other] American apparatuses are trying to contain the internal conflict in Libya and bring about the signing of the hoped-for reconciliation [agreement] among the Libyans. It also appears that Erdogan was [too] eager to cast himself into the inferno of a conflict with the Arab countries and Europe – [a conflict] in which nobody will take pity on him. If he continues his hostility towards the Libyans and Arabs he may start a war, but he will surely lose it very quickly and also lose Turkey. The upcoming days will be decisive, and terror will never win."
Cartoon in the Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi: "The Egyptians" lie in wait for the "Erdogan the Turk's aspirations" to steal Egypt's gas (Source: Al-Yawm-Al-Sabi, Egypt, December 9, 2019.)
Egyptian Columnist: We Need A Unified Arab Position Against Turkey
On December 10, 2019, following the summit of EU foreign ministers at which a proposed resolution for a decision to condemn the Turkey-GNA agreement was passed, Suleiman Al-Gouda wrote in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm: "I bet that one day we will see the Arab world taking a unified position along with Cairo, like the one we saw the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopting yesterday morning [December 9] in the Belgian capital of Brussels, in solidarity with Greece's opposition to the understandings between Turkey and Libya.
"Although three countries – Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus – believe that this memorandum [of understandings] will harm them, [only] Greece was quick to take action by informing the Libyan ambassador that he had no more than 72 hours to leave Greece. Since Greece and Cyprus are both EU members, Brussels could not let the events pass in silence – as is evident from the fact that [EU Foreign Minister] Josep Borrell... declared on Saturday evening [December 7] that the MOU would be the main item on the agenda at the December 9, 2019 Foreign Affairs Council, and that [the Council] would study it closely and declare its joint position on it...
"The question is whether Cairo can expect the Arabs to take the same [unified] position, or one like it. Turkey's conduct in the region harms not only Egypt but everything that is Arab, and if the Arab capitals fail to see this and to monitor this matter, then they are blind to the reality in front of them."
UAE Journalist: The MOU Reveals Turkey's Expansionist Aspirations And Its Desire to Tangle With Egypt And Greece
UAE political commentator Salem Alketbi wrote the following on the Saudi Elaph website: "Iran and Turkey are two regional countries with different plans for the Arab world. The first has a national expansion plan that is distinctly [Shi'ite] sectarian in flavor, whereas the second seeks to revive the imperialist era and realize President Erdogan's dream of renewing the glory of his Ottoman ancestors...
"The [Turkey-GNA] understandings reflect a Turkish desire to exploit the fragile state of several Arab countries in order to actualize Turkey's strategic goals. If anyone was misled by the Turkish propaganda regarding the goals of its military intervention in northern Syria – [namely, by] the pretext of creating a safe zone for the Syrian refugees in Turkey – the security agreement with the NGA in Libya exposes Turkey's [real] intentions of strategic expansion, because this agreement provides Turkey with a pretext for illegitimate military intervention in yet another Arab country...
"The timing of this memorandum of understandings demonstrates, beyond any doubt, that Turkey's blunt and public interference in the Libya crisis stems from its desire to further complicate this crisis and use the relations [between Turkey and Libya] to confront several other regional countries, mainly Egypt and Greece, primarily over the issue of Mediterranean gas...
"The truth is that 'the Sultan,' Erdogan, who genuinely in crisis, is trying to attain some achievement or breakthrough in Turkish foreign policy – which has, in recent years, changed from a problem-free [policy] into one of the sources of crises and problems in the Middle East, along with the Iranian regime... Erdogan lost all the achievements of the Turkish soft-power penetration of the Arab and Islamic world after he turned to military intervention and an alliance with terror organizations, chief of them the Muslim Brotherhood – to the extent that he has become a symbol of swapping success for failure and of losing achievements."
Cartoon in the Saudi Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily: "Erdogan" drives Turkey into the "Libyan crisis." (Source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, December 13, 2019.)
Saudi Journalist: Erdogan Attempts To Renew Ottoman Rule In Libya In Order To Take Control Of Its Oil And Gas Reserves
Saudi journalist Muhammad Al-Sa'ad wrote in the 'Okaz daily: "The story of the Turkish occupation of Libya is a very long one. It began in 1551 and continues to this day, [interrupted by] a short period of independence lasting less than 100 years. Under Ottoman rule, the Libyans suffered the most heinous crimes of murder, torture, tyranny, and robbery. They went through terrible periods of insecurity and instability, whether as a result of direct or of indirect occupation. Today, due to [the actions of] traitors similar to the ones of the past, Libya is about to fall under Turkish occupation once again.
"Erdogan is now trying... to revive the Turkish occupation of Libya, but this time by means of Libyan politicians loyal to Turkey who are also Muslim Brotherhood members. It's as though Erdogan is trying to turn back history and go back 500 years, so that Tripoli [the seat of the GNA] will become a Turkish province, and its coast will be used for laying gas pipelines to Anatolia and from there westward, to Europe.
"Money, and nothing else, is the source of Erdogan's urges and illegitimate ambitions. He does not bat an eyelid while realizing his goals, even if [it causes] states to collapse and people to be exiled from their homeland – [as happened] in Syria and is now happening in Libya, which holds the world's most important gas and oil reserves..."
Saudi Al-Watan Daily: Iranian-Turkish Octopus Extends Its Arms To Encircle The Arab Homeland
A December 15, 2019 article in the Saudi Al-Watan daily, titled "Iranian-Turkish Octopus Extends Its Arms To Encircle The Arab Homeland," compared Turkey to Iran, and claimed that the two countries are "two sides of the same coin" with respect to their aspirations in Arab countries. It added that Iran and Turkey "extend their arms" into Arab countries and interfere in them, either directly or via local militias and forces loyal to them. The article included an infographic illustrating Iranian and Turkish arms encircling Arab countries, octopus fashion, and a chart listing the countries where Turkey and Iran are interfering.
Infographic from the December 15, 2019 article in Al-Watan.
 Alarabiya.net, December 11, 2019.
 Gate.ahram.org.eg, December 12, 2019. Additionally, on December 11, 2019, Egypt's foreign ministry held a policy consultation with Cyprus on natural gas cooperation in light of the developments in the region. Gate.ahram.org.eg, December 11, 2019.
 Elbalad.news, December 9, 2019.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 15, 2019.
 Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed (London), December 10, 2019.
 Al-'Azizi states that he already raised these questions in an article he published on February 20, 2018 in the Roz Al-Yusuf weekly, on the tension in the Mediterranean due to the struggles for control of the undersea gas fields.
 Gomhuriaonline.com, December 3, 2019.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), December 12, 2019.
 It should be noted that on December 13, 2019, EU leaders approved the proposed resolution to condemn the Turkey-GNA MOU and determined that the agreement violated the sovereignty of another country (i.e. Greece) and does not conform to maritime law. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 14, 2019.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), December 10, 2019.
 Elaph.com, December 8, 2019.
 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), December 12, 2019.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 15, 2019.