By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
6 August 2014
Statements on Egypt’s apparent intention to intervene in Libya caused many observers to recall the sole military incident between Egypt and Libya, which occurred in 1977. However, today’s crisis is nothing like that of 1977’s crisis. Libya’s Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was a leader who is all about slogans. Back then, he dared to threaten Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, saying Libya would occupy Egypt due to his objection of Sadat’s intention to sign a peace treaty with Israel.
In a display of demagoguery, Qaddafi sent a few hundred men to the border area and attacked the Salloum border crossing. Sadat surprised him and sent three military divisions which took over the border crossing on both sides in less than an hour and Qaddafi’s men fled.
Today’s crisis is different as there is no order in Libya and Egypt is confronting dangerous domestic security challenges. The current crisis is the most dangerous faced by both countries since the Salloum incident. Appeals for intervention did not come from Cairo; most of them came from Libya which is drowning more deeply in civil war by the day. This civil war has led to the collapse of all state bodies as a result of extremist groups’ multi-fronted attacks, against Tripoli to Benghazi, to oil fields and ports. Libya is turning into a failed state and a safe haven for terrorist groups who will threaten the Libyans, their neighbours and the world.
Unique situation in North Africa
This unique situation in North Africa will force Libya’s neighbours, either Egypt or Algeria, to intervene. It seems that Egypt is more concerned, although the dangerous situation in Libya threatens all its neighbours without any exceptions whatsoever. We were expecting some sort of Egyptian intervention over the past months due to Tripoli-based confrontations between the Libyan national army and armed groups. However, Cairo remained neutral. As governmental positions gradually fall into the hands of armed groups, it’s become clear that due to the latter’s confrontation with Egypt, it is only a matter of time as to whether Egypt sends its troops to Libya or whether these armed groups invade Egyptian soil.
The Egyptian leadership may abstain from intervening for a few months and just settle at protecting its borders, just as Algeria is currently doing. However, Egypt knows that these Libyan groups which are currently preoccupied with domestic battles will eventually organize their ranks and point their rifles towards the eastern borders. The battle will be fought with the state of Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, whom these groups consider an obstacle in their path towards “restoring Cairo.”
Although Algeria issued warnings - which it seems are directed towards Egypt - that it’s against military intervention, the Algerian government has not yet clarified what it intends to do. Having a military presence along the border will not prevent the smuggling of weapons and armed men into Egypt. Also, it will not be easy to confront armed groups after they’ve seized important posts in Libya and ratcheted-up their power. The question for Algeria, Egypt, Europe and the world in general is: Will they keep silent the establishment of an extremist state like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Libya? Or will they accept an expanded civil war-like situation that attracts more extremists from the region’s countries similar to to Syria, Iraq and Somalia? Military intervention in Libya is the necessary solution that can prevent ISIS from establishing a terrorist state and that can hedge against the development of the struggle into a massive, open-ended civil war. There are different formulas, as intervention can be led by Egypt with the participation of Arab Maghreb Union countries or, alternatively, Egypt can be supported to handle the crisis by itself by whatever is left of the Libyan national army and other such parties.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.