Egypt’s Inauguration of New Naval Base Near Libya a Message to Turkey

Egypt inaugurated a new naval base close to the Libyan border on July 3, something that can be described as a show of force by Cairo and a demonstration of its commitment to its war-torn neighbor. Inaugurating the naval base on July 3 was not by mistake. July 3 commemorates when in 2013 the then head of the Egyptian Armed Forces, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, responded to the demands made by protesters in Tahrir Square during the June 30 Demonstration to topple the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Morsi. There is little doubt that Egypt was sending a clear message to Turkey, who was not only a strong backer of Morsi, but is also the main backer of the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood extremist organization.

During the inauguration of the new naval base in the eastern Mediterranean, Sisi, who has been president since the removal of Morsi from power, inspected the Egyptian armada and naval base.

"It is the latest Egyptian military base on the Mediterranean, and will be focused on securing the country’s northern and western front," the Egyptian president said in a statement.

The ceremony was attended by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and by the chairman of Libya’s Presidential Council Mohamed al-Menfi, both of whom are staunchly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s backing of the organization.

Egyptian authorities intend to reaffirm their central place in the region, essentially a show of force in face of Turkey’s attempts to dominate Libya. It also confirms Egypt as a major regional power, and even perhaps the greatest military power in the East Mediterranean region. It is a manifestation of traditional hard power but also a political message showing that Cairo will not tolerate attacks against its interests and national security.

Since the start of the Libyan crisis in 2011 when NATO-backed jihadist forces toppled long time ruler Muammar Gaddafi, Cairo has always been concerned about stability on its border. Sisi has never hidden his support for Libya’s Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in his struggle against the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist organizations.

After Haftar’s failure to capture the capital of Tripoli because of Turkey’s intervention, which was then followed by a Muslim Brotherhood counteroffensive, Sisi announced the city of Sirte as a "red line" on June 20, 2020. This caused immense anger in Ankara, but ultimately Turkey discontinued their offensive to capture Sirte, the gateway to most of Libya’s oil. Ankara understood that if Egypt intervened, Turkish forces would either be trapped in the country or forced to leave in humiliation. Turkey saw the seriousness of Egypt after its parliament approved in July 2020 for the military to be deployed in combat missions beyond the borders of the Egyptian state to defend Egyptian national security.

Despite the improvement of the situation with the end of hostilities and the establishment of a ceasefire in October 2020, the new Egyptian military base seeks to discourage Turkish-backed Libyan militias and Syrian mercenaries from resuming battles against the Haftar-led Libyan National Army, which is based in eastern Libya and closely aligned with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Apart from the military aspect of opening a naval base close to Libya, Egypt is also positioning itself as a leading player in the reconstruction of its neighbor. Cairo hopes to send more than three million Egyptian workers to help the country recover from a decade of bloody conflict. It is an initiative that has been discussed since last June. Having closed its embassy in Tripoli in 2014, Cairo has been stepping up bilateral meetings for several months, with a view of resuming trade and stabilizing the borders between the two countries.

Rejecting Political Islam, Egypt has made the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood its main security objective. Sisi does not hesitate to militarize Egyptian society in order to harden his policy against the Muslim Brotherhood and it appears that most liberals, nationalists and socialists in Egypt are content in seeing Sisi stamp out extremism.

Despite Turkey desperately attempting a rapprochement with Egypt in May, the two countries remain rivals. In fact, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was so desperate for a rapprochement that he even lamented on May 7 that “It makes us sad to see that the Egyptians are in solidarity with the Greeks.” Sisi has not forgotten the many insults he has received from Erdoğan over the years, such as being labeled an “illegitimate tyrant.” Although Erdoğan may get away with insulting German officials as “Nazis” and still have Berlin appease him, he now realizes that this same strategy of insult followed by rapprochement and appeasement from the West does not work outside of the liberal world, especially in Egypt where they take national security seriously, unlike in Western Europe.

In light of this, the new naval base close to Libya is a powerful message to Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood that Egypt will not allow extremism to permeate on its borders. The base also significantly reduces Turkish military capabilities in any potential war it may have with Egypt over Libya.

Paul Antonopoulos is a research fellow at the Center for Syncretic Studies.

5 thoughts on “Egypt’s Inauguration of New Naval Base Near Libya a Message to Turkey”

  1. Egyp under the military dictatorship of Sisi along Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Sisi’s financial backers , have been the constant sources of conflicts, wars and instabilities in Libya since 2014 in their repeated attempts to install Haftar as the military dictator over Libya.

  2. Haftar has often rejected any democratic initiatives and instead seeks to control Libya by military force.

    Recent violence led to condemnation and calls for restraint from states such as the US, France, Italy, the UK and the UAE. The UAE’s supposed concerns however, have understandably raised eyebrows, considering it is actually Haftar’s biggest backer, providing material and direct military aid to his forces’ military operations, including the latest towards Tripoli, in which it is arguably complicit.
    The UAE’s intervention stagnates Libya’s peace and democratic process

    Supporting Haftar is part of Abu Dhabi’s wider foreign policy aims. It seeks greater hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa and beyond, especially in southern Yemen, and East Africa. Libya, too, is a significant target for its regional ambitions for influence.

    The UAE claims that it operates a strictly humanitarian role in Libya, often highlighting its aid donations. It has often also presented itself as a neutral mediator in the conflict. However, as is the case in other countries such as Yemen, this is arguably a PR effort to conceal Emirati political and military influence, while it maintains a covert relationship with Haftar.

    Politically, the UAE wants to prevent any Muslim Brotherhood or Islamist influence in Libya, alongside Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who also back Haftar. Abu Dhabi is looking to replicate the Egyptian model post-2013 in Libya; installing military rule, undermining democracy, weakening Islamist presence, and keeping the country dependent on the UAE.

  3. Rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are acting collectively to conspire against Arab people’s aspirations for democratic governance.
    Since the Arab Spring of 2011, the Middle East has been swinging between reformists’ revolutions and autocratic Arab regimes’ relentless counterrevolution efforts.

    From a geopolitics point of view, the Arabian Gulf has become the new regional power, displacing Egypt. Therefore, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the new centers of regional gravity, using their considerable financial resources to fund counterrevolutions starting with their backing of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s military takeover in 2013 in Egypt.
    Since then, the oil-rich monarchies have shown great interest in promoting authoritarian governments run by military strongmen throughout the Arab World. For example, they bankrolled a strong return to military dictatorship in Egypt; armed General Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled “Libyan National Army” while hoping to create another al-Sisi in Libya. Now they are backing a violent crackdown against supporters of democracy in Sudan.

    Joseph Siegle, Director of Research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies detected a direct link between the Sudanese Military Junta’s crackdown on peaceful protesters and the visits by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s junta, and his deputy General Mohammed Hamdan to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

    “These countries are afraid of creating a precedent of popular representation or popular aspiration for democratic governance. Any notion of political reform terrifies this axis of counter-revolution,” Siegle said.

  4. Abu Dhabi has worked to ensure both actors’ dominance, in order to secure its regional sphere of influence. Since 2014, the UAE has seen Haftar as a useful force to replicate its efforts in Egypt of installing an autocratic military regime, and thus took the Libyan warlord under its wing.

    Abu Dhabi played a central role in building Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), and its fingerprints are on his ongoing campaign to seize Tripoli since April 2019 – often in such a subtle way that Russia’s role receives more of a negative spotlight, particularly in the West.

    After Haftar stormed out of talks brokered by Russia and Turkey in Moscow in January, he evidently felt he had enough support from elsewhere – namely Abu Dhabi – to resume military operations, showing the UAE’s significant sway over the warlord and Libya itself.

    Dubious claims

    Alongside its support for Haftar’s putsch, the UAE has financed and supported Yemen’s STC since its inception in 2017, as the faction demanded a southern state independent from Yemen’s north.

    While it dubiously claims to represent the interests of southern Yemenis, the STC itself is entirely propped up by the UAE.

    Emirati air strikes against government forces after the STC’s coup in Aden last August showed it was keen to consolidate this separatist push.

    It sought to undermine the Riyadh Agreement brokered last year by Saudi Arabia, with continued support to separatist militias across the south and in the geostrategic Socotra Island.

    The UAE seeks to control southern Yemen and its ports, particularly Aden and Socotra, to create a zone of influence over the Red Sea and to bolster its maritime trade. It aims to prevent these ports’, and therefore Yemen’s, independence; such a scenario could steer trade away from the UAE’s own commercial ports.

    The UAE also seeks to undermine Libya’s independence, as a stable, oil-rich Libya could attract international investment and compete with Abu Dhabi. Even if Haftar cannot seize Tripoli, his recent revolt further ferments Libya’s divisions. The UAE is thus manipulating these actors to secure its own sway.

    Both Emirati clients have displayed receptivity towards one another. Last August, STC Vice President Hani bin Breik declared the council’s support of Haftar, stating it was ready to exchange “expertise and experience” with the LNA to deal with “the illegitimate militias” in Libya.

    The two factions promote the UAE’s own anti-extremism narrative to justify their military efforts, while claiming to be legitimate representatives of their subjected peoples.

  5. How unperceptive and naive!
    Libya crisis is coming to an end — not thanks to Western powers, but a diligent collaboration of two regional powers, Egypt and Turkey, and backing they received by Russia. And predictably, Qatar with Turkey, UAE with Egypt. But those two played no decisive role.
    It was Russia and Egypt that supported Tobruk Parliament, and General Hefter. After Benghazi was stabilized, Egypt politically paved the way for Hefter’s victories.
    Trump then made a predictable and beginner’s mistake. Thinking Hefter has won – only Tripoli stood in the way of victory — Trump praised Hefter, and literally abandoned the UN recognized government in Tripoli. He expected Hefter’s win, and was sure that given the General’s family in US — he had no choice but to convert his win into the win by United States. When he balked — his family was taken to court questioning the origin of their property. Given the 30+ years of General residence in US, such an inquiry was clearly a message to think twice about crossing US. As I said, Trump fell for the hype of “imminent fall of Tripoli. Now for part Ii. Turkey in clear agreement with Russia, enters the fray in support of UN recognized government in Tripoli, abandoned by US. Suddenly, General is not winning any more, and has thus lost his value (no more news of his family interrogation in US). In fact, Parliament in Tobruk took over the process, and shortly thereafter, Tripoli and Tobruk were talking permanent ceasefire.

    By stepping into the fray Turkey procured a maritime agreement with Tripoli, sharing Mediterranean ridge. Meaning, Israeli plans for gas pipeline from its Leviathan gas field to Greece has hit an obstacle.
    Turkey and Egypt are communicating just fine. The story of Muslim Brotherhood lost its currency value after MBS took over Saudi Arabia in 2017. Turkey could not approve military coup, as NATO used to manage Turkey through military coups. This was then interpreted by then Saudi rulers as supporting Brotherhood.

    Let us accept reality as it exists today. Turkey is talking to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Saudi Arabia is talking to Iran. Egypt will be in the long run guarantor of peace in Libya. Turkey will stay in the picture as necessary.
    It is indeed sometimes hard to see forest for the trees. And that happens when one does not see the trees properly. There is by far more harmony among a number of actors than generally admitted. And that makes sense. Admitting this would mean giving credit to Russia, Egypt and Turkey for brokering peace in Libya and turning the mechanics over to UN.
    But this is exactly what transpired. No European country or US participated to bring it about. Now that it is in UN court — let us see if a monkey wrench or two get thrown into works by disgruntled powers.

    Similarly, resolution of Azerbaijan – Armenia war was brought about by Russia and Turkey.

Comments are closed.