Terrorism and your neighbor: The new dark era of Egyptian-Libyan relations
Relations between Egypt and Libya have entered a dark tunnel as disputes related to security have escalated, specifically regarding each country’s inability to control terrorist operations. However, this did not hamper official attempts to improve relations and restore cooperation between the two countries.
Tensions began to grow after Cairo agreed to host remnants of the former Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi, whom the Libyan government accused of plotting to weaken the state and destroy the February 17 revolution. Yet, following a surprise visit to Egypt by Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan two months ago, the two governments launched a series of negotiations to improve government relations.
Egyptian sources informed about the process told Al-Akhbar that Libya presented a new document for reconciliation. The proposed agreement includes a joint defense and border security plan, in addition to a commitment by the two countries to share information through defense ministries.
During the negotiations, the Libyan side encouraged the return of all expatriate Egyptian workers who left during the revolution, in the event that Egypt agrees to Libyan demands. In addition, it made a commitment to provide Egypt with oil, based on the agreement signed with ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. However, the two countries did not reach an agreement on waiving visas and decided to postpone this step until the situation stabilizes and the flow of travelers across borders is under control.
The sources maintained that the Egyptian government, whose consulate in Libya was targeted by an explosion three months ago, still insists on the need to protect Egyptian diplomatic missions and Egyptian expats.
An Egyptian expert in Libyan affairs, who preferred to remain anonymous for personal safety reasons, told Al-Akhbar that the relationship between Egypt and Libya is subject to the personal moods and narrow interests of politicians.
Diplomatic sources indicated that the issue of Libyan oil exports to Cairo is currently suspended, despite the agreement with the previous Hisham Qandil government to purchase 30,000 barrels daily of Libyan crude oil for one year.
An Egyptian expert in Libyan affairs, who preferred to remain anonymous for personal safety reasons, told Al-Akhbar that the relationship between Egypt and Libya is subject to the personal moods and narrow interests of politicians. He indicated that Libyans perceive the relationship with Egypt as a long-term strategic asset, which is not the case for Egypt.
The expert, who lives in Libya and witnessed the February 17 revolution, said that Gaddafi would purposely strain relations between the two countries in the event of a disagreement with the Egyptian leadership. The current Libyan political establishment is replicating such behavior out of fear that Egyptian-Libyan cooperation would threaten their narrow partisan interests.
In Cairo, Libyan Ambassador Mohammed Jibril told Al-Akhbar that links between Egypt and Libya are not optional. One cannot ignore what geography determined, he explained. Commenting on Egypt’s new political administration, he said that rulers come and go – they serve their people's interests, but it is the people who remain.
Jibril maintained that security cooperation between the two countries exists to protect the borders, and that the two countries communicate daily to cooperate on various levels.
Border controls are an Egyptian demand. However, the Libyan ambassador explained that the issue is of primary concern to Libya as well. Jibril stressed his country's international commitments to control the borders, signing security agreements with all neighboring countries with the help of European experts. He attributed lax border control to the lack of trained and experienced security personnel after the revolution.
Jibril added that the issue of Gaddafi regime remnants topped the agenda of recent visits to Cairo by former National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and Prime Minister Zeidan. He explained that the Libyan leadership is strongly convinced that they posed a threat to Libyan security and relations between the two countries.
Jibril revealed that his government has information "confirming those elements are involved in violent activities in Libya, and they move between Egypt, Uganda, and the United Arab Emirates. They believe they can regain control of the country with their money and that the revolutions in the Arab world will face a setback."
The Libyan ambassador said that the Egyptian government promised to address this issue seriously, within the framework of the law, adding that it promised it will not allow them to disturb relations between the two countries or use Egyptian soil as a base of operations to destabilize Libya.