The West on the Libya crisis
It was a gruesome video. Twenty-one Egyptian Christians, in orange jumpsuits that signified they had been singled out by IS (Islamic State) for execution, were led single-file by 21 masked men clad in black on the Mediterranean shore in Libya. The Copts were made to kneel then summarily beheaded.
The video was aired on Sunday 15 February. It sent shock waves through Egypt in its entirety but, worse, gave birth to an overpowering sentiment of defeat by an evil force hitting from foreign soil, too fierce and remote to tackle. It was the ultimate indignity. Or was it? After a night of sleepless agony, Egyptians woke to news of an airstrike by the Egyptian Air Force in the dawn hours of Monday against IS targets in Libya; the first strike was followed by several others. A general feeling of glowing, rightful redemption set in; the seemingly invincible evil had been dealt a strong blow, and Egypt was elated.
Not everyone around the world was elated, however. Expressions by most world leaders of shock and horror at the heinous beheading were just that: shock and horror, period. The international community in its wide majority stopped short of taking action; in case of the White House it even stopped short of explicitly condemning the crime. Calls from Egypt upon the international community to actively confront IS in Libya have—until Watani International went to press—met minimal positive response.
Joint Arab force
Apart from the retaliatory airstrikes by Egypt and a Monday 16 February air raid by United Arab Emirates F16 fighter jets based in Jordan against oil refineries under control of IS, in an attempt to dry up sources of funding for the terrorist group, no action against IS in Libya was taken.
Last Sunday, President Sisi said that there was need for a joint Arab military force to confront the Islamist militancy threat in the region. In a televised address, the President said that Egypt’s military has no interest in invading or attacking other nations, but will defend Egypt as well as the region “if required and in coordination with our Arab brothers.”
He said both Jordan and the UAE had offered military collaboration with Egypt following the IS beheading of the 21 Copts, adding that the Egyptian airstrikes had successfully hit 13 targets which had been “carefully surveyed and studied”.
President Sisi praised Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE for their multibillion dollar aid to Egypt following the end of the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime in July 2013. The Islamist MB were overthrown when millions of Egyptians took to the street with that demand; the army stepped in and toppled the regime. Mr Sisi said the Arab financial aid was “the main reason Egypt continued to stand fast against all the challenges and difficulties it faced”.
Apart from Qatar, the Arab States expressed full approval for the Egyptian airstrikes against Libya, conceding that Egypt had the right to fight terrorism and defend herself. Qatar, however, which has allied itself with Turkey and the MB, expressed reservations regarding the Egyptian airstrikes. Egypt countered by saying that Qatar supported terrorism in Libya, leading the Gulf State to recall its ambassador to Cairo for consultations. Relations between both countries remain strained ever since the MB were overthrown in Egypt in 2013.
Only Jordan and the UAE declared they were prepared for active collaboration in fighting IS. Other Arab countries appear to have their own concerns to look after. Algeria has its hands full defending its borders against Islamic militants in the southern Sahara and sub-Sahara regions, and has thus been reluctant to join in a regional force to fight IS in Libya. As to Saudi Arabia, which had been one of Egypt’s strongest allies against IS during the time of King Abdullah, its stance has taken another turn with the new monarch King Salman who appears so far to look kindly on the MB.
On Tuesday 17 February, in the wake of the Egyptian airstrikes against Libya, President Sisi appealed to the international community for collaborated intervention in Libya, dispatching Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri to New York to attempt to persuade the UN Security Council to adopt such a decision. “There is no other choice,” President Sisi said in an interview with French radio Europe 1. “Taking into account that the Libyan people must agree that we act to restore security and stability.”
This is not the first time the President demanded some kind of intervention in Libya which has been mired in conflict ever since the NATO-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. He has repeatedly sounded warnings against the spread of terrorism and alerted the West that it would soon spill over into their own land. Egypt’s ambassador to the UK warned the IS threat was “coming closer to Europe”, and claimed there was a collective failure to “snuff out” the terror organisation IS. Large swaths of the land of Libya are now under IS control, and there are two governments. The Prime Minister of the internationally-recognised regime in Tobruk Abdullah al-Thinni supported Egypt’s recent airstrikes. The other government is controlled by the IS militants and is based in Tripoli.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said States wishing to help Libya confront terrorism should be allowed to do so as long as it is with the approval and coordination of the “legitimate Libyan government”. Italy, for its part, called for urgent international action to halt Libya’s slide into chaos. At the Security Council, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi repeated Italy’s promise to help monitor a ceasefire and train local armed forces within the framework of a UN mission.
No positive response
Egypt’s call for an international coalition to intervene against IS in Libya found no positive response in the Security Council, with leading western nations calling for a ‘political settlement’.
Egypt and Libya thus decided to replace their demand for international intervention with a draft resolution to lift the arms embargo against Libya, impose a naval blockade on areas not under control of the internationally-recognised government in order to stop weapons reaching IS, and help build the country’s national army to tackle IS and other militants on its land. The embargo had been imposed on Libya in 2011 when the then president Muammar Gaddafi was fighting the Arab Spring uprising in his country.
One would have thought that, with the UN Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014) condemning “gross, systematic, widespread” abuse of human rights by IS and the council’s strong-worded condemnation of the beheading of the 21 Copts and the recent al-Qubba bombing which left 45 dead, Egypt’s call for international intervention would have found immediate response.
On its website www.un.org the UN News Centre posted, “Security Council members stressed that ISIL [IS] must be defeated and the intolerance, violence and hatred it espouses must be stamped out.
“The members of the Council emphasised that ‘continued acts of barbarism perpetrated’ by ISIL do not intimidate them but rather stiffen their resolve that there has to be a common effort amongst governments and institutions, including those in the region most affected, to counter ISIL and all other entities associated with Al-Qaida as the Council resolved in its resolutions 2170 (2014) and 2199 (2015).”
On the ground, however, the US and the UK rejected Libya’s call to lift the arms embargo so it can defend itself against the IS group, saying that the chaotic country needs a government more than arms.
The western stance brought on the ire of Egyptians. On the official level, spokesman of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry Badr Abdel-Ati accused the international community of adopting double standards. Mr Ati’s comment reflected a view widely held by Egyptians and circulated on the social media and in the press. Magdy Malak, a young Egyptian who works as Media Analyst with the London-based Salience Insight says: “Just look at the double standards the West has adopted. When IS killed an American, the US struck IS the following day. The UN and the West fully supported the move. When Egyptians were killed at the hands of IS and Egypt struck IS, the UN and the US sounded no support and declared they believed a political solution was needed. The question is why didn’t they believe a political solution was needed in Syria?”
A blogger” wrote: “How can the US and the UK claim Libya lacks a government when there already is an internationally recognised one? And how can they claim any ‘political solution’? Isn’t there an internationally held principle that there can be no negotiation with terrorists? So how can a solution be worked out between a legitimate government that serves the country and a terrorist group bent on destroying the country and seizing it against the will of its people?”
Former Foreign Minister Muhammad al-Arabi insists that the US stance comes as no surprise; “it all falls within the US policy in the region”. Mr Arabi’s remark vividly brings to mind the creative chaos theory and the Greater Middle East touted by American politicians in past years, notably by Condoleeza Rice. In which case it would appear that the matter has gone far beyond double standards; is it now in the realm of ‘mission accomplished’?
25 February 2015