SAMY MAGDY, Associated Press • July 20, 2020
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s parliament is to vote Monday to authorize the president to deploy troops to neighboring Libya if Turkey-backed forces there, allied with the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli, move to retake the strategic coastal city of Sirte.
An Egyptian intervention would further destabilize oil-rich Libya, and put two U.S. allies — Turkey and Egypt — in possible direct confrontation.
The vote was initially scheduled for Sunday but was moved to Monday in a closed session, according to lawmaker Mustafa Bakry. The House of Representative, packed with supporters of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is highly likely to vote in favor of sending troops to Libya.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi who was later killed. The country is now split between a government in the east, allied with military commander Khalifa Hifter, and one in Tripoli, in the west, supported by the United Nations.
The conflict has escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into the country.
Egypt has been backing the est-based Libyan forces in the conflict while Turkey backs the forces in the capital, Tripoli, in the west. Egypt’s president warned in June that any attack on Sirte or the inland Jufra air would prompt Cairo to intervene militarily, allegedly to protect its western border with Libya.
Along with Egypt, Hifter is also backed by the United Arab Emirates and Russia, while the in addition to Turkey, the Tripoli forces are aided by Qatar and Italy. The U.S. has grown increasingly concerned about Moscow’s growing influence in Libya, where hundreds of Russian mercenaries have backed an attempt by Hifter’s forces to capture Tripoli.
Egypt’s state-run al-Ahram daily reported on Sunday that the vote in Parliament was intended to mandate el-Sissi to “intervene militarily in Libya to help defend the western neighbor against Turkish aggression.”
Last week, el-Sissi hosted dozens of tribal leaders loyal to Hifter in Cairo, where he repeated that Egypt will “not stand idly by in the face of moves that pose a direct threat to security.”
Libya’s east-based parliament also urged el-Sissi to send troops.
Hifter’s forces launched an offensive to take Tripoli from the U.N.-supported government in April last year but their campaign — which had stalemated after reaching the outskirts of the Libyan capital — suffered a blow last month when the Tripoli-allied forces, with Turkish support, pushed them back and gained the upper hand in the fighting.
The Tripoli forces retook the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns in the region. They pushed on eastward, vowing to also retake Sirte, which Hifter took earlier this year.
Capturing the city, Gadhafi’s birthplace, would open the door for the Turkish-backed forces to advance even farther eastward and potentially take vital oil installations, terminals and fields now under Hifter’s control.