Egypt’s parliament on Monday approved the deployment of armed forces abroad to fight “criminal militias” and “foreign terrorist groups” on a “western front”, after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned Cairo could intervene in neighbouring Libya across Egypt’s western border.
The parliament unanimously approved “the deployment of members of the Egyptian armed forces on combat missions outside Egypt’s borders to defend Egyptian national security… against criminal armed militias and foreign terrorist elements”, it said in a statement.
The decision came after Sisi said last week that Egypt would not stand idle if there was a threat to national security in Egypt if parliament gave its approval.
The move could bring Egypt and Turkey, both US allies that support rival sides in Libya’s chaotic proxy war, into direct confrontation.
Sisi has called the strategic coastal city of Sirte a “red line” and warned that any attack on the town would prompt Cairo to intervene militarily to protect its western border with the oil-rich country.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The country is now split between territory in the east controlled by fighters – called the Libyan National Army (LNA) – loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-supported government in Tripoli, in the west.
The conflict has escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into the country.
Egypt backs Haftar’s forces while Turkey backs the UN-recognised government in the capital, Tripoli.
Turkish support for the Tripoli government’s forces helped force the LNA to abandon its 14-month offensive on Tripoli, a setback for Haftar’s plan to unify Libya by force.
A big escalation in Libya could risk igniting a direct conflict among the foreign powers that have poured in weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.
The US has sent mixed signals to the rival sides over the course of the war, but has become increasingly concerned about Moscow’s growing influence in Libya, where hundreds of Russian mercenaries backed a failed attempt by Haftar’s forces to capture Tripoli.
In a call on Monday with US President Donald Trump ahead of the parliament vote, Sisi emphasised Egypt’s aim to “prevent further deterioration of security in Libya”, according to a statement from the Egyptian presidential spokesman.
It said the two leaders agreed on maintaining a ceasefire and avoiding a military escalation in Libya.
Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram daily reported on Sunday that the vote in parliament was intended to mandate Sisi to “intervene militarily in Libya to help defend the western neighbour against Turkish aggression”.
-FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS