Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 117, 24 June 2020

Conflict in Libya Expands: Egypt threatens military action, risks regional clashes with Turkey
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news

On 20 June, President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a key supporter of Haftar, threatened to deploy troops to halt an advance by fighters loyal to the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. He further ordered the Egyptian army to be ready to carry out missions inside or outside of the country to protect its national security amid tensions over Turkey's intervention in Libya. In response to these statements, the GNA backed military by Turkey stated that Egypt's threat was a hostile act and direct interference, calling it a declaration of war. These statements came on the eve of a virtual meeting of Arab League foreign ministers on Libya, in which the GNA declined to participate. Further, French President Emmanuel Macron launched a furious attack on Turkey's involvement in Libya, accusing them of playing a "dangerous game." Further, Italy, Germany, and the United States have called for a ceasefire and de-escalation of tensions in Libya following a warning by Egypt.

Issues at large

First, the increasing role of Ankara in Libya is seen as a strategic threat. The support received from Turkey will enable the GNA to continue their offensive which will lead to further intensification of their plans to push back Haftar's forces, resulting in weakening his coalition and ensuring that there is no consolidation of Haftar's control especially in the east. Thus, the role of Ankara could potentially change the next phases of the conflict, which has threatened allies of the Haftar camp.

Second, a potential spillover into the already conflict-torn Sahel region. The regional actors on both sides are concerned over the possibility of regional expansion of the conflict that has become a playground for foreign forces. The allies of both camps have raised concern over the spillover effect, which could lead to further instability and terror forces with more leverage in the entire region.

Last, external actors have polarised the conflict. The meddling of external players has deepened the fragmentation and polarisation in Libya. This interference has further complicated diplomacy and mediation, for the external players have prioritized geopolitical benefits over ensuring stability for Libya.  

In perspective

First, Turkey should tread carefully on imposing its new assertiveness for this could result in Haftar's backers giving up on their mission on establishing control over the entire country and instead would focus on consolidating control in the east.

Second, the ongoing war in Libya seems to be heading towards a confrontation between regional powers with Turkey and Egypt becoming more vocal over the crisis in Libya, which could have a larger geopolitical consequence. In this context, the most dangerous risk for Libya is the expansion of the conflict.

Last, the severe opposition that has developed between both domestic and external actors over the country's power struggle will have detrimental effects for the prospects in negotiating a settlement to the conflict. With the conflict at the local level already grim, the involvement of outside actors will further add to the struggle of the country.

Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a Research Assistant at NIAS

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