Why Egypt always rejects foreign military bases

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

It is no coincidence that Egyptian state television showed how fighter jets thundered low over an Egyptian military base on the Libyan border, which Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited over the weekend.

It was a clear demonstration of force and a threatening gesture towards the other side of the border, which Al-Sisi then accompanied with words to his generals and soldiers that sounded like a warning: "Allow me to thank you for responding to each one Mission prepared, whether within our limits or if need be outside. "

Something is happening on the Libyan side of the border that is not at all to the taste of the Egyptian president. A 14-month offensive by Egypt-backed General Khalifa Haftars against the capital Tripoli collapsed last month. The local war paper has turned around massively.

Sirt and Jufra as red lines

Now it is the militias of the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Saraj, based in Tripoli and recognized by the UN, that are advancing eastwards - towards Egypt. The fighting currently revolves around the city of Sirt, which on the Libyan war field represents something like the center line between the two power blocs in the west and east of the country. Next to it is the Jufra air base, which is strategically important for Haftar and his foreign supporters.

"If someone thinks he can cross this red line - I mean Sirt and Jufra, then he must be aware that this is clearly a red line for us," said Al-Sisi during his visit to the military base. He also announced that he would be training more militias in eastern Libya, although, interestingly, he did not mention the name General Haftar.

"Only the Libyans can defend Libya in the end. We are ready to help them. Bring us the young men of the tribes and we will train them, prepare them and arm them under our supervision," the Egyptian president promised to his allies in the east Libya.

Turkey as the biggest rival in the region

Egypt, which, alongside the United Arab Emirates and Russia, is one of Haftar's greatest supporters, is visibly nervous about the advance of the militias from Tripoli. Especially because their military successes are due to direct Turkish support. Egypt sees the regional power Turkey as its biggest competitor in the region. Also ideologically: Turkish President Erdoğan is considered one of the most important supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood - once Al-Sisi's greatest political rival in his own country.

There is great mistrust between Al-Sisi and Erdoğan: For Al-Sisi, the Turkish President is the Muslim Brotherhood's biggest sponsor. Erdoğan, for his part, will never forget that the Egyptian president welcomed the failed coup against him in Turkey.

However, it is unlikely that Egypt will send a large number of soldiers to Libya. Egypt's generals may be reluctant to get embroiled in a lengthy war of attrition, directly in the Libyan chaos, in which there is no military victor in the end.

Struggle on several fronts

In addition, the Egyptian army is still engaged in a guerrilla war in northern Sinai, where militant Islamists are making life difficult for them. In addition, the country is threatened with another, currently still political, front with the dispute over a gigantic Ethiopian Nile dam ("Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam"), which threatens Egypt's strategic water reserves.

If Egypt actually intervenes militarily in Libya, it might more likely use its air force. But it is probable that this Egyptian threatening gesture is part of a larger picture. In the background, Turkey and Russia have been negotiating a line for weeks about how far the militias from Tripoli can advance. How far can they go while enjoying Turkish support and when will the point come when they will be attacked by Russian fighter jets, which are also stationed in eastern Libya on the side of Haftar?

There is one important Egyptian saber rattle motif that stands above all others. Al-Sisi and his strategists have understood one thing: only those powers that have a military presence in Libya, such as Turkey and Russia, also have an important say in possible political negotiations about the future of Libya. As a direct neighbor, Egypt does not want to be left out.

Karim El-Gawhary

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