Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Coordination over Libya

A flurry of consultations between Egyptian and US officials has focussed on Libya and Syria, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Monday, following intensive diplomatic negotiations in Vienna, the US and other world powers said they are ready to supply Libya’s internationally recognised government in Tripoli with weapons in its battle against the Islamic State (IS) group, and to help train the Libyan coastguard.

But much work still needs to be done to transform the intentions into action, said a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said this “explains why US Secretary of State John Kerry has met with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri twice in the last 10 days and why he visited Saudi Arabia before heading to Vienna.”

Kerry was scheduled to arrive in Cairo on Wednesday.

During Kerry’s meetings with Shoukri, coordinating positions on Libya and Syria will have topped both their agendas.

“The US and European decision to consider arming the Libyan government — a longstanding Egyptian demand — is an important shift and will require coordination with Egypt and other states in the region,” said Sayed Amin Shalaby, executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

Following the Vienna meetings, Kerry headed to Cairo to meet with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Shoukri before travelling to Brussels to meet NATO leaders.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid says all facets of Egyptian-US relations were discussed at the meetings. “The talks included reaching a joint vision regarding important regional issues — the situations in Libya and Syria — as well as preparations for the international peace conference in France,” said Abu Zeid.

Shoukri, in New York to chair a UN Security Council ministerial session on fighting terrorism, received an invitation from Kerry to visit Washington last Friday to discuss ways to boost bilateral relations.

“The US secretary of state invited his Egyptian counterpart for a meeting in Washington to discuss the Syrian and Libyan crises ahead of the two high-profile meetings in Vienna, on Syria on 17 May, and on Libya on 16 May,” Abu Zeid said.

The UN-backed Libyan government headed by Prime Minister Fayez Seraj has been pressing Western powers to ease their arms embargo. The UN imposed the ban five years ago.

Following Monday’s meeting of diplomats in Vienna, Kerry said the international community will support Seraj’s government as it seeks exemptions from the UN arms embargo “to acquire the arms and bullets needed to fight Daesh [IS] and other terrorist groups.”

If that pledge is met, said the diplomat, “Egypt will play an important coordinating role between the US and Europe on the one hand and Seraj government on the other. That is why coordinating with Egypt now is crucial to the US.”

“Egypt is working with us to counter terrorism,” Kerry said in March after meeting Shukri at the Nuclear Security Summit. He also said Egypt is playing a vital role in reaching a peaceful resolution to the situation in Yemen, Syria and Libya.

In February, Shoukri and Kerry met during Shourki’s trip to Washington. During the same visit, Shoukri met with US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Congress members and the heads of the congressional intelligence and military service committees.

While human rights are unlikely to have been raised in the latest round of talks they were raised in earlier meetings. In March, Kerry and Shoukri discussed ways to give NGOs more room to operate freely. Kerry had earlier voiced concern about the deteriorating condition of human rights in Egypt, citing the reopening of a case against NGOs that dates back to 2011.

“I am deeply concerned by the deterioration in the human rights situation in Egypt in recent weeks and months, including the reported decision this week by the Egyptian government to reopen an investigation of Egyptian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) documenting human rights abuses and defending the freedoms enshrined in Egypt’s constitution,” said a statement posted on the State Department’s official website on 18 March.

“The issue of human rights will always be a matter of difference between Cairo and Washington. Kerry’s latest visit to Cairo came just a few days after a US government committee criticised the State Department for allowing arms sales to Egypt without ensuring that it will not be used to violate human rights,” noted the diplomat.

Egypt’s relations with the US foundered following the removal of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. In October 2013 the US announced the suspension of annual military aid to Egypt, which was only resumed in March 2014. Even after the resumption, the Obama administration continued to criticise Egypt’s human rights record.

The US currently provides $1.3 billion annually to support Egypt’s security and military efforts to confront terrorism. In July 2015 the US delivered eight advanced fighter jets and five tank turrets for use by a joint American-Egyptian tank production plant in Egypt.

In August of the same year Washington and Cairo took another step towards patching up relations when they launched the first strategic dialogue since 2009. It covered a wide range of topics, from human rights to the battle against terrorism in Sinai.

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