Unlike Turkey, which was requested to help defend the legitimate UN-recognised government in Tripoli, Egypt has no such mandate to enter Libya.
On Monday, the Egyptian parliament passed a measure authorising the use of troops in neighbouring Libya, just weeks after the country’s autocratic leader, Abdel Fattah al Sisi, warned of military operations there.
The move sanctioning the deployment “to defend Egyptian national security” passed unanimously in a legislature that serves to rubber stamp Sisi’s decisions.
Egypt’s allies in Libya, made up of the Haftar-affiliated Tobruk-based parliament, also gave its green light for the Egyptian deployment despite opposition from the legitimate UN-recognised Government of National Accord in the capital Tripoli.
The body said the decision was “protecting the national security” of both countries.
Sisi has been agitating for action since the legitimate government, pushed by warlord Khalifa Haftar from the edges of Tripoli, began advancing on territory he held in a counter-offensive.
The Egyptian dictator has designated the strategic cities of Sirte and Jufra as ‘red lines’, as GNA forces prepare to retake them from the Cairo-backed warlord who stands accused of conducting massacres and killing civilians.
Sisi has also attempted to form an alliance of tribes to back the warlord, but the extent to which they pose a credible threat to the GNA is up for debate.
“We completely reject the Egyptian Parliament's decision based on an illegitimate invitation by those who claim to represent the Libyan tribes under the guise of parliament,” the GNA said in a statement referring to the pro-Haftar Tobruk-based entity.
GNA lawmakers further asked the government “to be prepared to politically and practically respond to this threat, and to consider every option to give the correct response.”
Libya’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, on Tuesday said that Egyptian parliament’s decision is a “declaration of war” against his country.
In a tweet which was later removed, Bashagha said; “the Egyptian parliament’s approval of troop deployment outside its western borders is a declaration of war on Libya and violates Arab League and UN charters.”
He explained that foreign forces on Libyan territory will be treated as enemies, and that Libyan security will not hesitate to defend their country's sovereignty.
A question of legitimacy
In 2015, the UN helped broker an agreement between warring parties after talks in Shirkat, Morocco.
Participants agreed to form a unity government, which would be recognised by the UN and the international community.
That government took the form of the GNA, and it is the only entity which has legal right to rule over Libyan territory and to serve as representative of the country on the international stage.
“It called on Member States to cease support to and official contact with parallel institutions claiming to be the legitimate authority, but which were outside of the Political Agreement,” the UNSC said at the time.
Some countries, however, do not seem to have taken this on board, choosing instead to sponsor Haftar’s destabilising campaign against the central government.
Russia, the UAE, France, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have thrown their weight behind Haftar.
The Arab League’s Assistant Secretary General, Hossam Zaki, has confirmed that the GNA is the "accredited government (of Libya) for the Arab League, the African Union and the United Nations.”
Zaki further established that all agreements signed between the GNA and Turkey are valid.
Turkey’s support to Libya has therefore come at the request of an entity legally entitled to do so.
Such help has not been superfluous to the GNA’s needs. For the Libya's government, the support has averted an existential danger.
Without Turkish support in the form of military advisors and military training, Haftar’s militias would likely have breached the capital creating a bloodbath, consequent refugee crisis, and possible failure of Libya as a state.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has clarified: "They (Haftar allies) are helping a war baron, we are responding to the invitation of Libya's legitimate government. That is the difference.”
Any attempt by Sisi to create a parallel between Turkey’s involvement and his own country’s, are therefore misleading.