Egypt Has No Good Choices in Libya

The recent revelation that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt were behind the previously unidentified warplanes that struck Islamist positions in Libya has sparked questions on Egypt’s role and its potential options for protecting its shared border with the troubled country—and the consequences of doing so. Nader Bakkar, co-founder of Egypt’s al-Nour Party who serves as a member of the party’s presidential and foreign affairs committees, recently wrote on EgyptSource of the security challenges that the Libyan border poses for Egypt’s authorities. Between arms trafficking, jihadist infiltration, and militia activity, the chaos in Libya is a real security problem for Egypt. Unfortunately, due to limited capacity, a struggling economy, and tribal affiliations that stretch across the border, the options are limited.

In his article “Egypt’s Options in Dealing with the Libyan Crisis,” Bakkar describes three possible approaches to the problem:

  1. An all out invasion of Libya to install a government loyal to Egypt’s authorities and exert full control over Libya’s domestic affairs.
  2. A deep incursion that would create a buffer zone along the border to prevent arms and jihadists from crossing into Egypt.
  3. Continue along its current course with targeted air strikes, potentially accompanied by limited land operations, against positions held by Libyan armed groups. 

The first option would require an inordinate amount of time and resources–not to mention the international stigma associated with unilateral military intervention. The first and second options also could have potentially harmful effect on the economy and exacerbate tensions at a time when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has prioritized stability over all else. The third option may tilt the balance in favor of anti-Islamist forces but by no means guarantees a restoration of security. The primary obstacle to any of these options lies in the lack of legitimacy granted either by Egyptians who share cross-boundary cultural affiliations or by Libyans facing a leadership crisis. 

Read more in Nader Bakkar’s “Egypt’s Options in Dealing with the Libyan Crisis” on EgyptSource.

Image: Egyptian military jets flying in formation, July 2013. (Photo: Flickr/Darla دارلا Hueske)