Egypt, Libya: U.S. Not Supporting Us Against the Islamists
Thu, April 9, 2015
Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attack the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. Several Islamic State flags can be seen in the crowd. (Photo: © Reuters)
The anti-Islamist governments of Egypt and Libya are complaining publicly that the U.S. is not providing enough counter-terrorism assistance and is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. They remain appreciative of the U.S.-backed intervention to topple Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but criticize the U.S. for not having a plan to contend with Islamist terrorists and militias afterwards.
Egyptian President El-Sisi is gently criticizing the U.S. for not supporting the anti-Islamist government of Libya enough. He said, "there is a legitimate [Libyan] government and that government is denied the weapons it needs to confront terrorists."
El-Sisi traces it back to original mistakes that the West made in Libya He said that the military intervention to overthrow Gaddafi was the correct decision but the West failed to implement a strategy to help Libyans tackle Islamist forces afterwards.
"The NATO operation in Libya was not complete, which led the North African country to fall under the control of militant and extremist groups," he said. He was more forceful in another statement that "we abandoned the Libyan people to extremist militias."
Gaddafi supported terrorism, hid chemical weapons and spread anti-Americanism and radical Islamic propaganda. His relatively secular dictatorship stimulated Islamism and committed gross human rights violations. The NATO and Arab League alliance militarily intervened when the Libyan rebels—a mixture of Islamists, designated terrorists and secular-democrats—were about to experience a bloodbath in Benghazi.
The Muslim Brotherhood lost the first elections in a landslide despite massive organizational advantages. Unfortunately, the U.S. turned a blind eye to Islamism and even welcomed the participation of Qatar, one of the Muslim Brotherhood's biggest allies.
The Qatari-backed Islamists stabbed the West in the back by undercutting the secular-democrats and using its influence to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood's political and militia operations. The West doesn't even see the backstabbing because it doesn't view the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the problem.
Libya is now in a civil war. The internationally-recognized government in the east, based in Tobruk, is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. A rival government is based in the west at Tripoli and it has a coalition of loyal Islamist militias named the Libyan Dawn. This government is led by the Muslim Brotherhood and backed by Qatar, Turkey and Sudan. The West is neutral.
The chaos has allowed ISIS to grow in the north. The terrorist group has captured Derna and expanded to Sirte. ISIS is reported to have 800 fighters in Derna alone. The Libyan Foreign Minister says 5,000 foreign jihadists are now in the country.
And it's getting worse. The spiritual leader of Ansar al-Sharia, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya responsible for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, announced his allegiance to ISIS. Abu Abdullah al-Libi tweeted a photo of a book titled, The Legal Validity of Pledging Allegiance to the Islamic State" and started a pro-ISIS Arabic website.
One of the biggest problems facing ISIS is that the legitimacy of its caliphate was widely rejected on procedural grounds and al-Libi can help craft rebuttals. He is presented expert on Sharia Law so he speaks with religious authority, making him a dangerous addition to the relatively unpopular ISIS' ranks.
ISIS says Tunisia is next and its largest training camp is less than 30 miles from the border. The anti-Islamist government there faces a major threat because Tunisia is the greatest source of foreign fighters for ISIS.
Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni chastised the U.S. and Europe in February for not providing its army with the weapons to fight ISIS and the Libyan Dawn coalition of Islamist militias who loyal to the rival government in Tripoli. A growing chorus of U.S. officials are urging a lifting of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya.
"Libya Dawn is part of militant Islamists which get weapons, ammunition and supplies from all over the world, but America and Britain have other ideas against the interest of the Libyan people," Al-Thinni said.
He accused the U.S. and U.K. of siding with the Muslim Brotherhood and trying to get the "terrorist grouping" into political power. Al-Thinni said his country would instead look to Russia and accused Turkey of supporting the Libyan Dawn forces.
"The British are trying with all their power to save the Brotherhood and ensure their involvement in Libya’s political scene," said an anonymous member of Al-Thinni's cabinet in December.
The Libyan Foreign Minister likewise lamented that his country is "not part of any international strategy against terrorism."
The U.S. ambassador to Libya pushed back against Libya and Egypt's statements in February that the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamist militias are part of the same problem as ISIS. She rejected the notion that the U.S. should favor the Tobruk-based secular-democratic government over the Islamist one.
" This is not to suggest that ideology has played no role in Libya’s internal conflict, although it is not the defining role that some – particularly external parties – have sought to highlight; Libyans are by and large conservative, Sunni Muslims who share similar values. Labels are unhelpful and misleading," she wrote on the fourth anniversary of Libya's revolution.
The Libyan embassy's charge d'affairs and women's rights activist Wafa Bugaighis said the U.S. is not supporting the Libyan government enough with intelligence-sharing, arms transfers and training. She emphasized that Libya is not requesting U.S. airstrikes or ground forces.
The U.S. and European countries are not picking sides in the civil war and are instead pressuring the rival Libyan governments to come to a power-sharing agreement. Bugaighis disagrees with the treatment of the two as equals.
"The fact is one is legitimate and democratically elected, [and] one is self-proclaimed and completely illegitimate," she said.
The frustration and disappointment of Egypt and Libya in the U.S. and Europe is becoming less and less sugar-coated. Western policy is not just seen as weak and delusional, but duplicitous. The tension is clear for those who see the sharp break with the normal pleasantries of diplomacy.
Egypt has accused the U.S. of betraying it by criticizing its ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, even though the U.S. itself bans the Brotherhood's Palestinian wing named Hamas. The Egyptian government website suggests that the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood is responsible for the policy and its embassy is excoriating the American media.
The United Arab Emirates banned the Muslim Brotherhood and made sure to shine the spotlight on its influential affiliates in Europe and the U.S. by designating the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Muslim American Society (MAS) and Islamic Relief as terrorist entities. The UAE State Foreign Minister pointed to the backlash as proof of how influential the Brotherhood lobby is in the West.
In August, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates launched airstrikes in Libya to help the secularist Tobruk government fend off the Islamist Libyan Dawn. They opted not to tell the U.S. beforehand and Egypt even initially denied it behind-the-scenes. American diplomats were outraged because the action was not "constructive" towards political reconciliation. The Pentagon criticized the airstrikes.
Egypt began airstrikes on ISIS in Libya after the group released a video showing it executing 21 kidnapped Egyptian Coptic Christians. The U.S. was not given a head's up and did not participate. The Pentagon shockingly said, "We're not taking a position on it."
A European diplomat explained, "Sisi doesn't have credibility with, and he is in fact an opponent of, the moderate Islamists and they are already looking to use his bombings as a pretense to abandon the talks." The diplomat said that disrupting negotiations could move them "toward the radical groups."
If bombing ISIS--the most vicious and feared terrorist group on earth--will turn these "moderate" Islamists away from peace and towards terrorism, then they aren't "moderate" or genuinely seeking peace. We shouldn't base policy around radicals who are only a slight nudge away from becoming terrorists.
One can only imagine the outrage that Egyptians, Libyans and all victims of ISIS felt. ISIS had just executed 21 Egyptian Christians on videotape. Egypt retaliated by bombing ISIS in Libya at the same time that the U.S. was bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria on a far larger scale.
And, yet, the Pentagon's position is that the U.S. can bomb ISIS but Egypt can't.
The Egyptian and Libyan governments requested that the U.N. authorize military intervention in Libya. The U.S. and Europe wouldn't even do that, instead implying that Libya's rival governments were essentially to blame by creating a power vacuum that ISIS filled.
A joint statement endorsed a "political solution to the conflict."
Egypt and Libya asked the U.S. and U.K. to endorse lifting the U.N. arms embargo on Libya so that its forces could get them military and training to fight ISIS and other Islamist extremists. They were denied. The British said it'd be considered if a unity government is established.
Egypt asked the U.N. for a naval blockade of the Libyan coast to stop weapons from entering the country. It was a reasonable request. After all, the U.S. and U.K. partially justified the Libya arms embargo based on concerns about weapons flowing in.
The answer to the Egyptians was silence.
It's no wonder that the Daily Beast reports, " The most common question Egyptians politicians, journalists and citizens alike have asked as their nation faced a mounting ISIS threat has been: 'Where is the United States?'
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.