Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi attends the Egyptian-Ethiopian relations and common interests bilateral meeting at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, March 24, 2015. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is in Ethiopia for a two-day official visit. (Xinhua/Michael Tewelde)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi

Egypt’s recent moves to end the conflict in Libya, including a peace initiative backed by international and regional powers, have led to a cautious halt in fighting in the war-torn country, experts said.

On June 20, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi threatened to send troops to Libya to protect “Egypt’s national security.”

Sisi also warned that Libya’s Sirte and al-Jafra, which are currently under the control of eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar, are a “red line” in terms of Egypt’s national security.

Sisi’s remarks came almost two weeks after he announced an initiative, dubbed the Cairo Declaration, to end the Libyan conflict. The plan was welcomed by and backed by the U.S., Russia, the European Union and most of the Arab countries.

Libya has been locked in a civil war since the ouster and killing of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The situation escalated in 2014, splitting power between two rivals with warring forces, namely the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli and the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Haftar. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia support Haftar’s LNA, while the GNA is backed by Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

“Egypt is worried about its security due to the danger posed by the presence of extremist and terrorist groups in Libya…Egypt has 1,200-km-long borders with Libya which can be easily crossed by terrorists,” Ahmed Elbaz, executive director of the Dubai-based Early Warning Center for Security Studies, told Xinhua.

He said the Turkish-backed forces of the GNA have recently seized a number of cities in Western Libya from Haftar’s troops, and also tried several times to attack the coastal city of Sirte.

“The GNA forces announced they are determined to attack and grab control of the oil-rich city, but all their plans were halted after Sisi marked Egypt’s red lines and its possible military intervention once these lines are crossed,” Elbaz explained.

He added that Egypt has been trying to participate in the resolution of the Libyan crisis in a neutral way, with a hope that the warring parties will reach a solution.

However, the Turkish military intervention in Libya has prompted Egypt to change its strategy on Libya, Elbaz said. Sisi’s statements about a possible Egyptian military intervention in Libya along with the Cairo Declaration have helped supsend the fighting in Libya, Elbaz said.

“Sometimes, the threat of using the military might in some conflicts leads to a quicker end of hostilities and opens up the way to constructive dialogue to end crises…this is what really happened after Sisi’s statements,” Elbaz argued.

After Sisi’s remarks on the possibility of an Egyptian military intervention in Libya, several regional and international powers have worked to bring the two Libyan rivals to the negotiations table.

“The European Union, the United States, the Arab League, Russia and China have all called for restarting the peace negotiations in order to reach a settlement to heal their rift,” Elbaz noted.

Abdel Mohdy Motawe, a researcher with the Cairo-based Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies, said there has been a prominent political buzz by international key players after Sisi’s recent remarks.

“A political solution is more possible than a military confrontation in Libya now,” Motawe told Xinhua. “Egypt has proposed a perfect plan that provides a peaceful settlement to the crisis.”

Pushing warring parties to accept the initiative is not easy, he said, adding that Egypt had to threaten with using military force in order to bring the rivals back to the negotiations table.

The situation in Libya has been ignored by the international community, but Egypt’s threat to intervene in the Libyan crisis militarily alarmed the key players who have called for resuming peace talks in Libya, Motawe said.

He believed that Egypt has so far succeeded in halting the fighting in Libya, adding that Egypt is currently and effectively, lobbying to mobilize international and regional support to its political plan to end the Libyan conflicta.

“I think it is a matter of time until peaceful negotiations are resumed and Egypt, which has been a key player in this conflict, will keep an eye on the progress of the talks to ensure that its allies, borders and national security are well protected,” Motawe added.

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