What does Egypt-Turkiye rapprochement mean for Libya?

What does Egypt-Turkiye rapprochement mean for Libya?

What does Egypt-Turkiye rapprochement mean for Libya?
Turkey's President Erdogan shakes hands with Egyptian counterpart El-Sisi in 2022. (Reuters)
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The rapprochement between Turkiye and Egypt, after years of frigid relations, heralds a new era of regional diplomacy, with consequential ripples across the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.
The detente, crystallized by a series of diplomatic exchanges and culminating in a significant state visit by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Egypt, marks a turning of the page on bilateral tensions.
This warming of relations between Cairo and Ankara is especially significant for Libya, a nation that has been afflicted by internal divisions and foreign meddling since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The Egypt-Turkiye rift has had profound implications for Libya, partly contributing to the country’s east-west leadership divide amid the complex interplay of geopolitical interests and regional dynamics.
Both countries have become involved in Libya, with differing objectives and methods. Turkiye’s support for the UN-recognized Government of National Accord has been multifaceted, including military assistance, the deployment of Syrian mercenaries, and diplomatic backing.
This support culminated in a maritime delimitation deal, signed by Ankara and the GNA in 2019 with the aim of securing Turkiye’s interests in western Libya and parts of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Military reinforcements provided by Turkiye, particularly ahead of the GNA’s counteroffensive in 2020, proved crucial in helping to repel the advance of the rival Libyan National Army toward Tripoli, leading to an enduring strategic stalemate.
Egypt, meanwhile, has primarily backed the LNA, led by Khalifa Haftar, through the provision of military aid and political support. Cairo’s involvement is driven by concerns about border security, Islamist militants, and a desire for a friendly regime in eastern Libya. Its support for the LNA includes a declaration that Sirte, a strategically located city, represents a “red line” for Egyptian national security, and authorization for troop deployments to support the LNA.
This backing is also rooted in a broader regional strategy to contain Islamist militancy, which Cairo perceives as a threat to domestic stability.
The involvement of Egypt and Turkiye is just one aspect of the broader proxy dimensions to Libya’s internal struggles, with each country supporting its respective allies through military, logistical, and diplomatic means.
This external support has not only exacerbated Libya’s internal fragmentation, it has also complicated peace efforts by reinforcing the military and political divisions between the GNA in the west and the LNA in the east.
The deadlock has been further cemented by the strategic importance of Libya’s vast oil and gas resources, over which both rival factions seek control, with significant implications for the nation’s long-term economic stability and sovereignty.

An alignment of objectives by Cairo and Ankara could promote a more stable and unified Libya. 

Hafed Al-Ghwell

Against this backdrop, Egypt-Turkiye rapprochement presents an incredible opportunity for the two nations to recalibrate their roles amid geopolitical realignments and shared concerns, potentially fostering an environment more conducive to Libya’s future reconciliation.
The political fragmentation in Libya, made worse by the postponement of elections, is at a critical juncture where joint mediation by Egypt and Turkiye could help foster unity and stability. If both Cairo and Ankara were to take steps to leverage their influence in ways that facilitate an inclusive and irreproachable electoral process in Libya, it could serve as a cornerstone of their changing roles and afford both countries opportunities to preempt the emergence of shared threats.
Given their respective influence on Libyan factions, a cooperative approach by Egypt and Turkiye could significantly advance the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process in the country. This is particularly relevant during the disarmament and demobilization phases, in which both countries could leverage their relationships with Libyan armed groups and foreign mercenaries in a push toward peace-building efforts. An effective disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process is vital for the transition of combatants into civilian life, thereby reducing the power of militias and facilitating national unity.
Moreover, renewed cooperation would also help, albeit for different reasons. Given the potential for a fast-tracked €7.4 billion ($8 billion) check from Brussels for its help to combat the flow of migrants to Europe, Egypt has an even greater incentive to shore up its efforts to do so.
Turkiye wants to protect its strategic and economic interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, while Egypt has not been shy about prioritizing the integrity of its western border, while also seeking to ensure safety and employment opportunities for Egyptian workers in Libya.
A cooperative stance on Libya would also greatly aid in efforts to mitigate the potential threats emanating from a volatile subregion, given the intensifying civil war in neighboring Sudan and a failed coup in Chad.
Egyptian and Turkish support for what is likely to be rapid post-transition economic and social development in Libya is another area in which their rapprochement can potentially have an impact. Investments in infrastructure, education, and healthcare, which will be essential for the reconstruction of Libya, could benefit from joint initiatives by Cairo and Ankara.
Not only would this help advance the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process by facilitating the reintegration of former combatants into civilian life, it would promote social cohesion. This would in turn help a nascent, unified government to swiftly and effectively address the socioeconomic fragilities that often enrage an embittered public, as seen repeatedly in post-invasion Iraq.
The current detente between Egypt and Turkiye signals a departure from their historically competitive relationship, creating a platform for a more harmonized approach in Libya and parts of the Eastern Mediterranean where frictions persist.
Though challenges remain, given the deeply entrenched regional and international interests in Libya, an alignment of objectives by Cairo and Ankara could promote a more stable and unified nation. This will entail a cautious but concerted effort to address electoral delays and security issues, thereby setting Libya on a trajectory of sustainable development and reform of governance.
The shift in dynamics toward cooperation between Egypt and Turkiye offers a unique opportunity for both nations to recalibrate their approaches to Libya. While there are still obstacles to overcome, including the reconciliation of differing national agendas and navigation of local complexities, shared strategic interests and the potential benefits of a stable Libya invite a rare note of cautious optimism.
A successful partnership between Egypt and Turkiye in Libya could serve as a cornerstone for broader regional peace and cooperation.
Instead of serving as a battleground for regional rivalries, Libya could benefit from becoming a theater of cooperation, in which the confluence of Egyptian and Turkish interests support the construction of a cohesive and prosperous state.
The key to achieving this vision lies in maintaining steady momentum in the process of rapprochement between Egypt and Turkiye, immune from other geopolitical perturbations, and the translation of diplomatic cordiality into effective collaboration on the Libyan file.

  • Hafed Al-Ghwell is a senior fellow and executive director of the North Africa Initiative at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. X: @HafedAlGhwell
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