President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi called on international support in a speech addressing the nation Sunday night, requesting action by the UN Security Council (UNSC) in the aftermath of an “Islamic State” (IS) video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts, who were reported missing last December in the Libyan city of Sirte.
However, both Al-Sisi and military experts seem to consider a potential cooperation with Europe as a more effective strategy, especially since Egypt’s regional friends in Europe have paved the way for such a strategic alliance.
On one hand, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told the Egyptian president in a Monday phone conversation that Libya’s neighbour countries suffer the most from extremism, which should bring regional allies together to counterterrorism.
This comes as Italian Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti stated in an interview Sunday with Il Messaggero newspaper that Italy is ready to lead a coalition to interfere in Libya with coordination of concerned regional countries in Europe and North Africa.
Last November, Al-Sisi had discussed with Italian officials a common desire to take part in the international alliances, grouped under the UN, to maintain international peace and stability in the Middle East. He urged an enhanced role by the European Union and the Arab League.
Back then, Italy insisted on assisting Egypt in fighting terrorism in Sinai but maintained a desire for peaceful and political negotiations to resolve the crisis in Libya, amid worries of increasing danger to neighbouring countries, a presidential statement said.
Following the incidents of Sunday night, Al-Sisi was in contact with France and Italy. French President Francois Hollande assured Al-Sisi of France’s support for international action within the UN Security Council and the framework of the European Union by taking a firm international stand to eradicate terrorism.
Egypt and France have concluded a $5bn deal concerning the purchase of 24 Rafale fighter jets, for which French Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Cairo Monday.
According to military expert and former deputy defence minister Hossam Sweilam, Egypt must limit itself to air strikes and abstain from sending ground troops to Libya or any other conflict zone. “I think it is in the best interest of Egypt to engage in military cooperation with Europe,” Sweilam said in statements to Daily News Egypt Monday.
The intervention in Libya is extremely difficult given three facts: Libya’s close location to Egyptian borders, the ongoing war between different Libyan militant groups and the uncertainty of how is Egypt going to coordinate with different international actors.
“Unlike Iraq, the situation in Libya has direct effects on Egypt, and it is almost a responsibility of the Egyptian army to interfere to stop armed operations against both countries,” said Mohamed Kadry Said, a retired army official and head of the military unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPPS).
Said explained that the complexity of the intervention in Libya comes from two factors: on one hand, the geography of the country and different regions under different groups’ control and, on the other hand, the necessity of besieging locations managed by extremists without appearing to be in war with Libya itself.
But Said differed on the nature of military intervention that could possibly occur, saying that, according to a meticulous study of the region, deploying ground troops is an option if carefully managed with the participation of concerned parties, namely European countries.
“Regional partners must be in full agreement of such actions, that must be planned to carry out specific military operations to fulfil well-defined missions,” Said explained to Daily News Egypt.
So far, Egypt has refused to contribute with military forces, despite the West’s efforts, and has limited its activities as a member of the coalition to logistical support. Furthermore, although Al-Sisi referred to the UN, Egypt’s first reaction to IS’s attack came as an independent move.
“Egypt reserves the right to respond in its own manner and time,” Al-Sisi said Sunday during the National Defence Council emergency meeting, hours before the Egyptian Armed Forces announced the successful air strikes it carried against locations of the Islamic State in Darnah.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed to New York on Monday to meet with UNSC officials, and will participate in the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism that will be hosted by the White House in Washington next Wednesday.
The outcomes of the discussions in New York are still not clear, but a source inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was unlikely for Egypt’s military to discuss fully joining the US-led coalition combating the militias of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which rebranded themselves “Islamic State”.
Al-Sisi had previously stated that the war on terrorism in Sinai should be the focus of the Egyptian army, which international actors should continue to support, and for which the US has resumed its military aid and Apache jets’ supply.
Egypt is seeking political and financial assistance from the UN coalition, a Sunday Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement said, arguing that the danger in Libya is as big as it is in Syria and Iraq.
The ongoing hostilities of ISIS recognise no geographical borders, and have heavily and speedily hit different countries since the beginning of 2015, with the most recent beheading of Japanese journalists Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto as well as Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasaesbeh.
In Egypt, North Sinai-based militant group “State of Sinai”, formally known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, which declared its support for the self-proclaimed Islamic State, previously claimed responsibility for the killing of an American oil worker named William Henderson.
Egypt is committed to acting according to its best interests and has the support of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.