Thursday, 5 June 2014

Libya's security crisis worries Cairo

Since the election, few incidents of violence have been reported although one attack points to a growing security concern for the government. On Sunday 1 June, the military’s official spokesman reported that an attack on an Egyptian patrol along its border with Libya had left six guards dead. The attack allegedly occurred as an act of retaliation for recent arrests made by Egyptian security forces on a group of smugglers operating along the border. The military’s statement claims that the attack was the work of the smugglers themselves, although social media sites linked to the militant group Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, which operates primarily out of its base in the Sinai Peninsula, have claimed to be responsible for the attack as well. We have increased our attention on Egypt’s western border because of the rising instability in Libya. It is notable that various figures from within Libya’s body politic have flown to Cairo looking for help to calm the situation and, as we note below, the situation is only likely to worsen in the short term.

It is clear that disorder in Libya, whose government has struggled to control Islamic militant groups operating inside its border and is currently embroiled in a new crisis, has become a security priority for Egypt in recent weeks. On Tuesday 20 May, the military announced that it had temporarily closed Egypt’s border to Libya following similar moves by both Algeria and Tunisia. Envoys of the Egyptian and Algerian governments recently met to co-ordinate security arrangements in light of the renewed hostilities in Libya. This may eventual pose complications to Egyptians working in Libya who, according to unofficial estimates of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, number over a million, although expatriates have not yet been asked to evacuate Libya.

It was reported on Monday 2 June that a Libyan delegation of four ministers aligned with General Khalifa Haftar’s (a.k.a. Khafter) forces who launched an offensive against Islamist militants in Benghazi, including its Minister of Foreign Affairs, arrived in Cairo on a two-day visit aimed at soliciting help from the Egyptian government. President-elect El-Sisi raised Libya on several occasions throughout his electoral campaign as an issue of immediate concern and has suggested that Egypt would intervene in the conflict if it needed to, although the scope and scale of potential intervention has never been made clear. These comments have been welcomed by some Libyans, including General Haftar, who essentially posed an invitation to Egypt to intervene militarily during an interview he gave to a well-read Egyptian newspaper. We are concerned that as the security situation in Libya deteriorates, Egypt may be pulled into the conflict, thereby adding another dimension to its current overall security risk.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2014 Menas Associates

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