Amadou Moctar Ann, Political science PhD student and Security Analyst at Anticip
What is the relevance of Libya?
Libya is an extremely well-located country. It’s a coast that has an absolutely immense value in terms of tourism, but also geostrategically with a very small population, 6 million, all Sunni, so no major sectarian divisions. It abounds in a very great natural wealth (oil, gas, iron, diamonds, gold…). But what interests us here is that it is above all the soft belly towards an Africa that does not interest Westerners so much, but which is absolutely crucial for countries that export like Turkey and Russia. So if one is excluded from Libya, its African plans over the next few decades will no longer be as practical and as easy to implement.
An ideological perspective
The prevalence of political Islam (radical or moderate) in Libya is a nightmare for the Gulf countries, but especially for Egypt. This would send an ideological signal to the whole of the upper part of Africa. This ideological side is completely different from the realistic, geographical approach of countries like Russia, which are much more cynical, much more calculating.
The risk of clashes between the two protagonists remains medium.
A clash is possible according to the following points:
• The American position in the coming months will be decisive: it alone can constitute a safeguard for Egypt through financial pressure. Turkey will also try to convince the United States to « reason » with Egypt in Libya in exchange for an anti-Moscow alliance that will benefit Washington and Ankara, particularly in the field of gas. Faced with the « leading from behind policy » of the Trump administration (already underway under Obama), the USA is increasingly making it known that it does not want to become more involved in the Near and Middle East.
Egypt, Russia, Greece, the UAE and even Israel will rather bet on an asymmetrical war by supporting Haftar (cf. the presence of 3 Russian anti-aircraft defence systems in recent days in Qardabiya and the deployment in April of about 300 armed men from Quneitra in southern Syria ready to join Libya).
• Another factor which at first glance seems distant is domestic.
In addition to its internal political and economic issues, Cairo also has a growing problem with Ethiopia. At the heart of the dispute is Ethiopia’s launching of a large dam project to control the waters of the ancient Nile, long considered to be a part of Egypt. If the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, which will be Africa’s largest hydropower plant upon completion, is successfully implemented, it could see Ethiopia become the main player in controlling the flow of the Nile, Egypt’s only source of fresh water, thereby limiting Cairo’s access to the river.
This factor is less influential, but it matters. The water factor has become an almost existential issue for Egypt. It will weigh as little as 2% in Cairo’s future policies (internal, security and economic).