Egypt may support Libyan tribes, play ‘game of chicken’ with Turkey

Egypt sees a direct military intervention in Libya as a last resort due to security challenges on several fronts and will probably step in indirectly by supporting Libyan tribal militias, Marco Túlio Lara, regional security analyst at Le Beck International, said in an article for the National Interest on Sunday.

Eastern-based forces under rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) - backed by Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, among others -were forced to retreat from much of western Libya in recent weeks after Turkey stepped up its support for the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Buoyed by their recent battlefield victories, GNA-aligned forces said they would stop their advance after capturing Jufra airbase and Sirte, a key city on the Mediterranean, prompting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to threaten direct military intervention.

But, direct intervention is a last resort for Egypt because Cairo has to deal with issues including the filling of the Ethiopian mega-dam that threatens water supply to the country, Islamic State activity in the Sinai, and economic and security challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Lara said.

Control of Sirte will be decisive for the oil industry, as it is the gateway to Libya’s central and eastern oil crescent. Thus, Egypt will not stand by as Turkey secures a foothold and goes a long way towards securing Turkish interests in the eastern Mediterranean, Lara said.

"Instead of intervening in the Libyan conflict directly, Cairo’s way of dealing with the current threats to its interests may develop into support for Libyan tribal militias which have already expressed their approval of the Egyptian approach," he said.

Turkey and Egypt will play "a game of chicken" to see who will back down first, as a direct military confrontation between the two countries is, for the moment, off the table, the analyst said.