Turkey wants estranged Egypt to be part of working group on Libya

Turkey wants estranged Egypt to be part of working group on Libya

Emine Kart - ANKARA
Turkey wants estranged Egypt to be part of working group on Libya

AP photo

Turkey has expressed willingness for Egypt to take part in a proposed working group formed to coordinate international efforts in Libya, which has been mired in conflict following an uprising that toppled veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi five years ago, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said. 

“The agreement on Libya is very important; we are not underestimating it. It is a very important step. That’s why we have given full support along with Italy but everything is not over yet,” Çavuşoğlu said on Feb. 22, at a joint press conference with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni. 

In mid-December 2015, delegates from Libya’s warring factions signed a U.N.-brokered agreement to form a national unity government, a deal that Western powers hope will bring stability and help combat the growing presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The signing came following a meeting of representatives from 17 countries including Egypt, Germany, Russia, Turkey and China in Rome, where they signed a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire and promising to cut off contacts with factions that do not sign the deal.

“Before everything else, we need to convince those who haven’t joined the process. To this aim, while in Rome, we proposed the formation of a working group and we said that Egypt should also take part in this group,” Çavuşoğlu said.

In early February, while categorically ruling out meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until death penalty sentences for ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders were lifted, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a green light for ministerial-level talks between the two estranged countries.

Ties between Ankara and Cairo have been strained since former army chief el-Sisi toppled Morsi, who is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, after mass protests against his rule. 

“Particularly the speakers of the two parliaments need to be persuaded; we need to ensure their participation in the process,” Çavuşoğlu said, in an apparent reference to Aguila Saleh, president of the elected House of Representatives in Tobruk, and Nuri Abu Sahmain, head of the rival General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli.

“The government needs to move to Tripoli as soon as possible. For this to happen, clashes need to cease. We have been doing our part on this issue during our meetings with militia leaders and we have been delivering messages. We also want to say that Italian Gen. Serra has been playing an important role on this issue,” he said, referring to Ltn.-Gen. Paolo Serra of Italy, who joined the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in November 2015 as senior adviser to U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) Martin Kobler on security sector matters relating to the dialogue process.

Çavuşoğlu underlined there were currently 4,500 ISIL members in Libya.

“It is a significant figure. Will we leave the fight against them to Libya’s local forces? Will we lend support to operations or will we help in the building of a regular army in Libya? All of these need to be discussed,” he said, citing the making of a new constitution and rebuilding of democratic institutions as important steps to be taken.

‘No outside interventions’ 

“On all of these matters, we need to lend support. On the other hand, everybody needs to avoid taking steps that would disrupt these steps,” he said. 

Çavuşoğlu also noted the need for Libyans to make a decision on the commander of Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, without outside interventions. “On Haftar, there are different views inside Libya. There are supporters, but there are also a big number of opponents. What matters is the decision that Libyans will make. There should be no outsider intervention, especially military interventions,” he said. 

In early February, while in Washington for bilateral talks with the Obama administration, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the international community should not intervene against ISIL expansion in Libya until a Libyan government was formed and requested such assistance.

“We have to recognize that [Haftar’s forces] are an important component... in the battle against expansion of the terrorists,” Shoukry said in an interview, as his country has pushed for a powerful role for Haftar.