There is speculation on whether Egypt will succeed in convincing the United Nations to reject two deals signed by Turkey and western Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), including one on security cooperation.
Egypt had sent two letters to UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in which it described the two deals as “illegal” and “groundless”. Turkey and the western Libya government signed the two deals, which included another one on the delimitation of maritime borders, in late November.
According to Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the deal on security cooperation allows his country to send troops to Libya at the request of the Tripoli-based GNA. The other deal, Erdogan said, makes it necessary for Eastern Mediterranean nations, Egypt, Israel, and Greece to get Turkish approval before exploring natural gas or extending pipelines in the region.
The two deals have come to add more fuel to simmering coals in the Eastern Mediterranean, a region that has turned into the center of tension because of the emergence of a huge natural gas wealth in it.
Egypt has come at the heart of this wealth with the discovery of a major gas field off its Mediterranean coast by an Italian company in late 2015. The field produces close to 3 billion cubic feet of gas every day, a little less than half of Egypt’s daily production.
Production from Zohr field has helped Egypt bridge the gap between its natural gas production and consumption. It also opened the door for the return of Egyptian natural gas to the international market.
Egypt also has plans to turn into a regional energy hub or a concentration point for gas produced in the region. It wants to collect this gas, process it at its sprawling liquefaction facilities, and then export it to Europe.
Nevertheless, the new development between Turkey and the Tripoli government is threatening all this. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned against attempts by some countries to control Libya.
“We will not allow any country to control Libya,” Sisi said. “Libya is a national security issue for Egypt.”
Libya’s unrest has had a heavy toll on security conditions in Egypt, especially in Sinai. Egypt says most of the arms and explosives that reach a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Sinai come in from Libya. Egypt also has to guard its joint border with Libya, about 1,200 kilometers, alone, in the absence of a functional government in the North African state.
The letters Egypt sent to the UN are part of a major international offensive launched by Cairo against what it describes as Turkish attempts to control Libya. Turkey has turned into a bitter enemy of Egypt in 2013, when Egyptians rose up against Islamist president Mohamed Morsi with backing from the Egyptian army.
A major sponsor of political Islam, in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s movement, in particular, Turkey relied on the rise of the Islamists to power in North Africa and in the wider Arab Middle East to help it increase its influence in the region.
However, the uprising against Morsi brought Turkey’s hegemonic dreams to an end, analysts said. Egypt’s demarcation of its maritime borders with Cyprus and its plans to do the same with Greece are increasing Turkey’s isolation as well as anger.
Increasing this isolation even more was also Egypt’s formation of an Eastern Mediterranean natural gas forum in January of this year. The two deals with the GNA might be a desperate Turkish attempt to come on board in a region where it finds itself increasingly isolated and excluded from its potential wealth.
Nonetheless, Turkey’s détente with the Tripoli government rings the alarm in Egypt.
“Egypt’s national security is under threat because of Turkish interference in Libya,” said retired Egyptian diplomat, Ahmed al-Quesni. “There is an urgent need for preventing Turkish plans in the North African state.”