After a fourteen-month campaign on Tripoli, forces loyal to the Libyan National Army are in retreat. To those who support the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, this should serve as great news. Since 2012, a power vacuum has consumed Libya following the fall of longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Both sides of the civil war view themselves as the true leaders of Libya. The Government of National Accord is the product of a 2015 UN-brokered agreement, known as the Libyan Political Agreement. This agreement was deemed unacceptable by neighboring Egypt, which originates from their political history with those who make up the GNA.
The GNA has historical ties to the Libyan wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, the same organization that participated in the 2011 overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. In 2014, the Egyptian military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood, making them illegal, and installed General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as president.
Egypt under Sisi is heavily invested in the success of the LNA. Other than the United Arab Emirates, Egypt is the most committed supporter of Khalifa Haftar and the LNA. They view any advances by the GNA as a direct threat to their western border. Sisi declared a “redline” in Libya, announcing that Egyptian troops could be sent into Libya if the GNA enters the territory of Sirte in the east or Jufra in the south. Sirte holds symbolic value as it is the home town of Gadaffi.
The GNA views Sisi’s comments as hostile and has no plans to back down. Turkey’s backing of the GNA is what led to this crossroad. Earlier this year, Turkey entered several agreements with the GNA, sending drones and supplies. If tensions do not break soon, we are at risk of a direct conflict between Turkish and Egyptian forces in Libya. Sisi proposed a ceasefire, but the GNA rejected, claiming they will liberate all of Libya. To the west, Algeria has taken a neutral stance, offering to host peace talks. The GNA views Algeria’s neutrality as an endorsement of what they call a coup attempt.
Haftar and the LNA had several opportunities to accept a ceasefire during their campaign on Tripoli. They overplayed their hand, which resulted in Turkey storming in to save their allies in the capitol. The GNA has kicked Haftar’s forces out of Tripoli’s outskirts and the LNA stronghold of Tarhuna.
The GNA has no interest in calling off the fighting right as they appear to have the LNA on the ropes. It should be noted that the LNA still holds control of Libya’s oil fields, therein lies the country’s real authority. Oil is the lifeblood of the Libyan economy; without those reserves, the GNA cannot have a legitimate claim to power.
The LNA’s inability to slow down GNA forces puts the entire region in peril. It was one thing when the LNA had the GNA surrounded in a steady stalemate. Now, Egypt, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates cannot sit by and watch their investments go up in flames. Sisi’s red line should not be taken lightly. If Egypt sends troops into Libya to enforce a red line that is 1,000 km. from their border, the GNA has stated they are prepared to engage.
Egypt is hellbent on ensuring any remnants of the Arab Spring come nowhere near their borders. Last month, Russia reduced the presence of Russian mercenaries within the country, meant to convey their disappointment in the LNA. This comes as reports indicate former Syrian guns for hire have arrived in Libya for better pay.
The international community is growing tired of this conflict. Both the US and Russia have echoed the UN’s calls for a political solution to the fighting. It is unclear if a political solution is viable in a civil war where both sides believe the other has no claim. No one wants Libya to become the next Syria, but that ship appears to have already set sail.
Even if one side manages to become victorious, it is hard to imagine stability in Libya’s future. This conflict has the global community on the edge of their seat as the slightest advancement could force a sharp increase in fighting. All we can do now is wait to see if Sisi keeps to his word.
The writer is the western regional vice chair for the College Republican National Committee.