Libya’s Full-Scale Proxy War: Back to the Ottomans or the Pharaoh?

Written by | Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

Diplomatic efforts are intensifing in Europe and regional capitals to avert the entry of Egyptian powerful military into Libya’s nine-year bloody civil war amid a standoff on the north African coast between rival factions involved in the conflict. This move would further escalate tensions between some of the Middle East’s most implacable foes, sparking reactions as far away as Abu Dhabi and Ankara. The clamour over Libya’s fate and future path has intensified since the recent rapid retreat of warlord Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) after its failure over the last 15 months to seize the capital Tripoli from the Government of National Accord (GNA) backed mainly by Turkey.
The GNA has now advanced to within 30km of Sirte, while the LNA, supported by Egypt, Russia and the UAE, has entrenched in the urban areas in which the Libyan dictator hid with his entourage in 2011 following a US-and-UK-led military intervention. The chaos in the nine years since has drawn in global powers, regional states, mercenaries, tribes and jihadists, all attempting to carve a stake out of potentially the richest state in north Africa. Threats from Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to defend his country’s borders have been met by calls from the Arab League for a fresh truce, but GNA has so far appeared ready to press on with advances against Haftar’s retreating forces.
Whether Egypt will invade Libya is being hotly debated inside the country. “Sisi will only go in if Russia lets the GNA and Turkey past Sirte and if he has military and financial support from another partner such as the UAE/Saudi,“ says Anas El Gomati, director of the Sadeq Institute, a Tripoli-backed think-tank. “This would be a ground offensive towards the border and will try to push the GNA and Turkey away from claiming the oil crescent in Libya stretching from Sirte to the gates of Benghazi.” Experts describe the current stage of the Libya conflict as a proxy war on two levels. As Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, explains, the proxy war is “firstly between Erdo?an and Sisi who are each other’s enemies in the Middle East. Sisi is a secularist general who locked up political Islamists and Erdo?an is a political Islamist who locked up secularist generals. They can’t last in the same room together for 20 minutes.” Secondly, Erdo?an sees it as a proxy war with the UAE, a newer regional foe, Cagaptay adds.

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