Saturday, August 31, 2019

Muslim Brotherhood factor widens rift between Tripoli and Cairo, by Michel Cousins

Criticism of Cairo by the GNA and the State Council was the sharpest attack on Egypt by authorities in Tripoli since the Qaddafi era.

In politics, the same phrase can mean very different things to different people and Libya is no exception.

On the last day of the Eid al-Adha holiday, Egypt called for an end to foreign interference in Libya.

Cairo welcomed the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the forces supporting the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) agreeing at the last minute to an Eid ceasefire. It called on the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to work more with the House of Representatives (HoR) to develop a way to end the crisis. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said eliminating terrorism and extremism and ending support for armed militias were part of the way to end the Libyan crisis.

The HoR welcomed the Egyptian statement but the GNA, as well as the Tripoli-based State Council, took very different views.

They, too, said there had to be an end to foreign interference but the demand was directed at Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood-dominated State Council condemned the Egyptian statement as a form of interference in Libyan affairs, accusing Cairo of providing arms to the LNA. It took particular exception to the Egyptian call for UNSMIL to work with the HoR. It was also part of the Libyan political framework under the 2015 Skhirat Agreement, it said.

The GNA’s Foreign Ministry likewise condemned its Egyptian counterpart as interfering in Libyan affairs and accused it of supporting Libyan Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, leader of the LNA.

There was nothing new in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s call for non-interference in Libya. In a phone conversation August 4 with French President Emmanuel Macron, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi emphasised his rejection of all forms of foreign interference in Libyan affairs.

Nor was there anything new in the State Council’s accusation that Egypt has been backing Haftar. It did so in July, accusing the United Arab Emirates and France as well.

The difference this time is that the GNA went along with the State Council without reservation.

It was the sharpest attack on Egypt by authorities in Tripoli since the Qaddafi era. Until now, while the GNA has had no illusions about the level of military support provided to Haftar by the Egyptians, it diplomatically ignored it. GNA and Presidential Council head Fayez al-Sarraj has met with Sisi on several occasions, although he was last in Egypt in February.

Cairo has acted entirely diplomatically. While backing Haftar, it recognised the GNA as the government of Libya and tried to mediate peace between the two sides. There was, in February 2017, the abortive effort to bring about direct negotiation between Haftar and Sarraj while they were in Cairo.