It’s a really great honor for me to start writing a monthly column for the leading Bangladeshi English magazine of Dhaka Courier.
I’m hoping my contributions will provide readers with a better understanding of what has been happening in Egypt and the Middle East from a closer proximity.
I’d like to express my gratitude to my Bangladeshi colleague and friend Monzurul Huq whom I met in Japan around 20 years ago during my assignment as a correspondent in Tokyo for the leading Egyptian Newspaper Al-Ahram.
Mr. Huq introduced me to the Editor in Chief of the Dhaka Courier, Mr. Enayetullah Khan.
After receiving a welcoming message from Mr. Khan, I looked up the magazine’s website to gain a better understanding of the kind of work Dhaka Courier does and was shocked to see this as the cover story: Libya killings- The Ultimate Horror … When Dreams Turn to Horror (June 5, 2020 - volume 36/issue 47).
The article read: “The news came as a shock on May 28, the family of a Libyan human trafficker had killed 30 migrants and injured 12 others, in revenge for his death, those killed comprised 26 Bangladeshi and four African migrants, they had been killed in the town of Mizda, 180 kilometers from Tripoli.”
News of the defeat of Libyan army commander Khalifa Hifter was circling on social media around the same time this sad cover story came out.
Hifter is politically supported by the Egyptian government.
Egypt is interested in the Libyan file for two national security reasons.
Firstly, Libya is a neighboring country that shares a border with Egypt, so preventing the presence of terrorist organizations there, precisely ISIS militants on Egypt’s western border, is priority.
The second reason is to ensure no one threatens Egypt’s strategic treasure of gas which has been recently discovered in the Mediterranean.
Simply put, the Libyan file is a struggle that started after the fall of President Gaddafi’s rule in 2011 between regional and international powers, led by Europe, Russia and the United States.
After the Berlin conference which was held( January 2020) Turkey joined the fight, with a green light from the US, and as a NATO member, to divide up Libyan wealth with Russia as both shared influence in Syria.
On its part, Egypt was recently reported to have tactfully turned down Russian wishes to establish a naval base near the Egyptian city of Salloum to allegedly protect the peaceful Dabaa nuclear power plant, which it is contributing to.
Meanwhile, Russia is seeking, in agreement with Turkey, to win influence in eastern Libya, including over gas and oil, and to establish a military base.
Thus it appears that Libya, which was the real driver of the Russian position in the Syrian crisis, may again become the gateway to the entry of Russian influence into North Africa.
On the other hand, Italian newspaper La Stampa recently published a report indicating that Turkey is studying the possibility of sending a number of F.16 fighters to Libya in response to Russia's transfer of 14 MiG-29 and Sukhoi 34 aircrafts from the Syrian Hmeimim base to the Al-Jafra base in Libya.
At the same time, in the midst of a suspicious international silence but a US green light, and with the aim of removing Russian control from Libyan oil, a cargo ship loaded with weapons and ammunition and protected by two Turkish military frigates headed to Libyan shores when it should have been inspected in accordance with United Nations resolutions prohibiting the export of weapons and sending fighters to Libya.
As for European Union countries, they are unable to act or even react, and are satisfied with just expressing fear and anxiety about the inflow of migrants along with extremists.
To be clear, the Libyan struggle is partly a result of the absence of a consensus at the level of the European Union regarding how to deal with the overall situation in the country.
The lack of consensus is due in some respects to European competition over Libyan wealth from oil, gas and uranium, concerns of some European countries about Turkish military presence in Libya and what it represents from a threat to energy projects in the eastern Mediterranean, and finally the threat posed by Turkey’s support for terrorist jihadist groups in Libya on security and stability in the Mediterranean region.
It is important to note here that the majority of European countries have been silent about Turkey's transfer of thousands of mercenaries from Syria to Libya due to the presence of approximately 4,500 European mercenaries there whose countries refuse to return and prefer Turkey to keep them.
This has been used as a way for Turkey to put pressure on a number of European countries that have been pleased with the use of mercenaries to fight terrorism in order to spread democracy, promote human rights and change the systems of governance in the region.
Meanwhile, the United Nations and its Secretary-General have played their traditional role of expressing concern.
In conclusion, I would like to refer to a recent Cairo Declaration issued after a meeting between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Libyan Army Commander Khalifa Hiftar and Libyan Parliament Speaker Aqila Saleh, which presented an initiative aimed at settling the Libyan crisis by announcing a cease-fire, dismantling the armed militias and the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Libya
The declaration laid out the steps for a political solution in great detail, starting with the formation of a presidential council representing the three regions of Libya, Tripoli, Barqa and Fezzan, and ending with the division of government ministries according to the population of each region.
It also included the restructure of Libyan state institutions, all with the aim to prevent the transformation of Libya into a semi-state or the squander of its oil wealth.
A number of countries in the region and abroad, including Russia and the United States, welcomed Egyptian efforts to help Libya settle its conflict, but the Al-Wefaq government and Turkey rejected this initiative known as the "Cairo Declaration."
Observers said the Egyptian initiative on Libya did not have any ingredients for success, as it came too late, and failed to include and consult all the different sides that represent Libya.
The 26 Bangladeshi victims, who were killed in Libya earlier unfortunately, paid the price for the greed of regional and international powers fighting over the North African country’s wealth.
Kamal Gaballa is Managing Editor of Al-Ahram.