Sunday,17 June, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)
Sunday,17 June, 2018
Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Sealing Libya’s gates of hell

The cowardly attack on a bus in Minya only succeeded in steeling the Egyptian state to deal decisively with the terrorist threat in Libya, writes Hany Ghoraba

With the fall of the regime of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, many across the world believed that they had accomplished the impossible and that peace would reign the land as Libyans democratically live happily ever after. Unfortunately, there was no happy ending for the Libyan crisis and civil war, as the fall of Gaddafi only marked the beginning of a series of unfortunate events that ruined the lives of Libyans and rocked neighbouring countries, particularly Egypt.

One of the most horrific events to occur recently was the vile terrorist attack on a bus full of Egyptian Christians in the southern city of Minya that took place 27 May 2017. The terrorists left 28 people dead and 22 injured as they were on their way to St Samuel the Confessor Monastery. This barbaric attack didn’t spare the life of six innocent children with the youngest being a two-year-old. The attack sparked waves of anger amongst Egyptians whose Muslim population was on the verge of celebrating the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, whose festivities are shared by their Christian brethren as well for the past 1,300 years.

This ferocious anger has turned into an unyielding determination within the hearts of Egyptians and their leadership to close the gates of hell that were unsealed after Gaddafi’s demise and the direct intervention of NATO, opening a political void that was filled by terrorists and warring factions.

Undoubtedly a massive and treacherous attack of this magnitude warranted a more massive retaliatory response, which came in the form of waves of air strikes that targeted the headquarters of the terrorists’ activities in the northeast Libyan city of Derna. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ordered air strikes that destroyed major sections of the organisational infrastructure of the terrorists in Derna and killed Libya’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Derna Shura Council group leader “Abou Talha” and four of his lieutenants after wiping out their headquarters. Moreover, on the same day of the air strikes, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Al-Sharia group responsible for the death of US ambassador John Christopher Stevens in Libya in 2012 disbanded after suffering huge losses. The Egyptian Armed Forces announced that air strikes will continue till the terrorist threat in Libya is eradicated.

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan army, remains Egypt’s best bet for restoring order in Libya after half a decade of chaos. The successful campaign on which he is leading the Libyan army, in restoring peace and cleaning Libyan towns from terrorist militias, may be slow in pace but definitely is delivering results. Nevertheless, Egypt is not relying entirely on the Libyan army, which is fighting a fierce battle within its borders with limited resources, but is relying on its own air force, navy and counter-terrorism units that decisively strike terrorist camps in Libya while seizing ships that smuggle weapons and ammunition to terrorists in Libya. These military efforts are done in conjunction with the Libyan army that assists the Egyptian air forces and units by locating terrorist concentrations. The unified effort is delivering some positive results and Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, is expected to be terrorist-free within a short period of time.

On the other hand, the UN role has been very passive in Libya and adopts an unrealistic vision towards the stability of the Libyan state. For nearly six years, the UN and the Security Council have been helpless in the face of the blatant smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups operating in Libya from countries such as Turkey and Qatar, through naval vessels and airlifts. These weapons have continued to fuel the ongoing civil war to this date. At the same time, the UN insists on maintaining a ban on the export of arms and weapons to the Libyan army, that is fighting terrorism handicapped due to this ban — a ban Egypt has been vehemently pressing the UN Security Council to lift immediately.

Furthermore, despite having a relatively small-sized population, Libya possesses a complex and tribal social fabric. Along the vast areas of the Libyan state, any army may find itself overstretched. Accordingly, intelligence activities are essential for maintaining a successful military campaign in Libya. Also, the intertwining nature of the tribes, where allegiance to the state is weaker than to the tribal leadership, creates an even more complex environment for any military operation.

CONCLUSION: While the Qatari and Turkish regimes blatantly support Libyan-based terrorist militias and groups as they take the lives of hundreds of thousands of Libyans, Egypt is assisting the one and only legitimate Libyan army to rebuild its strength and cleanse Libyan soil of terrorism once and for all.

Egypt finds itself tasked to clean up a mess left by the NATO intervention during the early days of the Libyan revolution and the blind dispersal of heavy weapons that eventually fell in the hands of Islamist militants fighting the Libyan army and the Gaddafi regime. At the moment, the majority of these arms have fallen into the hands of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated militants in Libya, along with Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated terrorists carrying the name Fajr Libya (Dawn of Libya). Egypt in conjunction with the Libyan army is sweeping the Libyan state to rid it of this infestation of terrorist militias that eventually find their way onto Egyptian soil, as was the case in the Minya terrorist attack. It is a daunting task to fulfil, but it is an inevitable one that serves Libyan state security and of course Egyptian state security in the long run.

The good news is that with Egyptian involvement, supporting the reinstated Libyan army under Field Marshal Haftar’s leadership, the terrorist and Islamist forces are receding significantly as they lose key towns. For instance, on 4 June 2017, Al-Jafra strategic military base and airport was liberated by the Libyan army, marking a significant milestone in cleaning up east Libya of the terrorist presence. The district located in the centre of Libya will represent a great strategic base for the Libyan army to seize the rest of western Libya, including the capital, Tripoli.

Since 2011, the Egyptian leadership was hesitant to get involved in Libya lest Egypt get lured into a labyrinth from which it cannot escape. The Egyptian army is already fighting a ferocious war on terrorism in North Sinai in the same period. However, Egyptian aerial strikes and continuous assistance to the Libyan military became imperative. President Al-Sisi announced that Egypt will attack any terrorist camp in Egypt or any country across the region that represents a threat to Egyptian national security. The current state of affairs in Libya and the ongoing terrorist threats emerging from it remain a clear and present danger to the Egyptian state that has to be decisively eradicated.

More than at any time in history, it is imperative for Egypt to assist Libya on many levels, including militarily, economically and politically. Egypt should approve any requests for assistance with full force to the best of the Egyptian state’s ability. For all intents and purposes, it has been proven that Libya’s safety and security is paramount to Egypt’s safety and security. The Libyan people realise and welcome a long-term Egyptian role in fostering stability and rebuilding Libya from its ashes. The gates of hell that opened in Libya and unleashed all sorts of evil, in the form of terrorism and weapons smuggling into the Egyptian state, must be shut and sealed forever. More importantly, Muslim Brotherhood affiliates in Libya and their Islamic State allies haven’t succeeded in anything by their cowardly attack on the bus filled with Egyptian Christians, except waking a sleeping giant that will not rest till that threat from Libya is vanquished.

The writer is a political analyst, writer and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and Winding Road for Democracy.

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