Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Egypt, Turkey, and the Libyan Test

What does Erdogan’s Turkey want from its direct military intervention in Libya? Does it want to be the first player in the country that has a strategic location and oil wealth in its land and water? Or is it seeking to pressure Egypt, harm its security and interests, and punish it for the damages it has caused to the “Brotherhood” project during the “Arab Spring”?

Does it want to grab the status of the “big local power”, which has the right to move its forces, militias, and mercenaries across the region’s countries? Does it consider that the current international climate is suitable for Ankara to reserve a privileged position in future arrangements that concern the region’s security, wells, and rivers?

Does Erdogan’s Turkey want to reproduce the experience of Khamenei in controlling the decision-making in Arab capitals? Did Turkey in Libya benefit from America’s desire to cut off any attempt by Russia to establish a base on the Libyan coast after it strengthened its presence in Syria? What is the truth about the intricate tango between Erdogan and Putin from Idlib to Sirte?

Can Europe, despite its lack of unity, see Libya falling into the hands of the man who, from time to time, threatens to submerge the Old Continent with the waves of refugees? Does Erdogan consider the Middle East as a jungle, in which the strongest prevail over the United Nations and the tears of its Secretary-General or the Secretary-General of the Arab League and his appeals? Does he think that what Iran has done and is doing in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen justifies Turkey’s infiltration into Arab maps?

These questions will linger as long as Erdogan continues to rush in the region as if he were in a race against time. His forces are on Iraqi soil without Baghdad’s approval, and on Syrian soil without the consent of Damascus.

His aircraft are conducting raids in Iraq. And his forces are changing the features of regions in Syria, not to mention his military presence in Qatar, Somalia, and Cyprus, although in different circumstances, and his attempt to impose a fait accompli in oil exploration in the Mediterranean.

It is no exaggeration to say that the speech of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi opened a new page in the Libyan crisis. The speech was important for its location, time, and rhetoric. The Egyptian president approached the borders with Libya to announce with a clear tone that his country cannot resign from the fate of the African country, not only because it is Arab, but also for Egypt’s role, stability, and vital interests.

The speech came shortly after Turkey’s attempt to impose conditions on the situation in Sirte and Al-Jafra. As for the vocabulary, it was calm and strict at the same time, and enough to send the message to those who are supposed to listen.

In front of the Egyptian forces, Sisi declared that any direct interference by the Egyptian State enjoys international legitimacy, whether in the United Nations Charter: the right to self-defense, or based on the sole elected authority of the Libyan people, which is the House of Representatives.”

Sisi sent a clear warning that drew a “red line” between Sirte and Al-Jafra, stressing that Egypt “will allow nobody to breach it.”

Further emphasizing his warning, he addressed the members of the Egyptian forces, saying: “Be prepared to carry out any mission here within our borders, or if necessary, outside our borders.”

It is a very clear message to Turkey. Sisi considered that developments in Libya “and sending mercenaries and militias to it” constituted a “threat to Arab, regional and European national security, international peace and stability, as well as a direct danger to Egyptian interests.”

In a phrase used for the first time since the outbreak of the Libyan crisis, Sisi said: “If the army advances to Libya, the Libyan tribes will be at the forefront,” pointing out that the Egyptian army will train and arm the country’s tribes.

The truth is that Libya, suffering from wounds, is now at a crossroads: speeding up a ceasefire and curbing the appetites of Turkish interference, or turning into an arena for a multi-lateral confrontation internally and externally.

There is no doubt that the Egyptian leadership exerted extraordinary efforts to move away from the option of intervention, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not leave it with any other option.

The Turkish interference in Libya has surpassed its previous limits, which Cairo was able to turn a blind eye to or tolerate. It turned into a direct military intervention, blew the equations on the ground, and moved to the stage of imposing conditions around the Libyan future.

What’s more, Turkey moved mercenaries from Syrian territories to engage in the fight against Libyan citizens. This means recruiting Arabs to fight Arabs, but within the context of a Turkish scheme. This is not a simple matter.

Egypt could not ignore the fact that the Turkish military presence on Libyan soil threatens not only its role but also its stability. Moreover, Erdogan spares no occasion to express his desire to settle scores with present-day Egypt, which has dealt a painful blow to his regional dream by overthrowing President Mohamed Morsi.

Erdogan’s involvement in the Libyan file is dangerous. In this context, it is possible to understand the open solidarity with Egypt, which Saudi Arabia was quick to express, soon after Sisi’s speech.

Saudi Arabia, which was the first to warn against Iranian policies to penetrate maps and destabilize countries, has also rushed to caution against the major coup represented by Turkish intervention policies.

The support expressed by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Bahrain for the Egyptian position is in fact a reflection of Arab eagerness to restore the balance between the components in the Middle East region.

Exploiting the Arab land as an arena for the Iranian-Turkish hegemony race is a harbinger of endless wars.

It is no secret that the Arab barrier in the face of these winds begins with a Saudi-Egyptian understanding to build a unified Arab position that turns the Libyan test into an opportunity to deter Erdogan’s dreams.