In 2011, many observers across the globe were convinced that the relationship between Egypt and Libya would become closer and taken to even higher heights of international diplomacy and economic integration after both countries underwent similar revolutions, commonly known as the Arabic spring. However, this has never been the case as the relations between these two nations keeps on deteriorating day by day despite the intervention of influential Arab leaders to help foster good relations between the two countries. Globalization has remained a vital factor in promoting cordial and peaceful relations between nations. It is, therefore, expected that by being part of the various economic blocs such as COMESA, Egypt and Libya will allow free movement of goods and services, and human capital across their border, and enjoy the positive benefits that accrue from such economic blocs.
The basis of such expectations are on the assumptions that trade allows nations to enhance economic growth and development by giving countries the opportunity to enjoy an array of benefits such as increased export revenue, increased access to goods and services by consumers, increased foreign direct investment, and promotion of cultural diversity. Some of the critical factors that have hindered good political, economic, and social relationship between Egypt and Libya are; the difference in economic ideologies, political suspicion between the two nations, and conflict of interest on many national issues between the two states. This paper discusses the Egypt-Libya relations and how both countries used or are using diplomacy, negotiation, and communication to solve the challenges and issues between them.
Issues and Challenges
Egypt and Libya have a long historical relationship that dates back to the post-independence period during the late 20th century (Ismael, 2017). Egypt and Libya are Arab nations located in the north of Africa and are predominantly considered Islamic countries due to the high number of Muslims in the two countries. The two states had positive cooperation after both of them attained independence. While Egypt had aligned itself with the west and even adopting the capitalist economic ideology as opposed to Libya who adopted the communist system. At that time, the Libyan president as convinced for the Arabic nations to unite and form a single political alliance. This cooperation led to an attempted attack on Israel to reclaim the territories that Israel had allegedly taken. The relations between the two nation went a notch higher after Gaddafi seized power after a military coup and became the president of Libya in 1969. President Gaddafi used these cordial relations with the Egyptian government to train soldiers together in Egypt to help fight the Egypt-Israel war. However, after losing the battle to Israel and calling for a ceasefire, the Egyptians pledged their allegiance to the West—a move that Libya saw as a betrayal to the entire Arabic nations. The action of Egypt to officially align with the western countries who were in support of Israel, therefore, was the genesis of the conflict between Egypt and Libya.
The fresh feud increased thus resulting in calamitous repercussions for both countries. During the early 1980s and 1990s, Egypt had a massive population that was estimated to 50 and 60 million people respectively. Despite the large population, the country however suffered from limited availability of resources, a situation which resulted in underdevelopment in the country. On the other hand, Libya had a relatively low population of 6.3 million with abundant supplies of oil and natural gas. Therefore, many Egyptian laborers decided to migrate to Libya to search for employment opportunities in the petroleum sector. The massive recruitment of Egyptian workers had economic benefits to both countries because the Egyptian laborers hired in different firms in Libya were able to remit money back home thus enhancing the country’s economic growth. On the hand, Libya enjoyed increased exploitation of its natural resources which was critical for its growth. However, after the dispute, the Libyan government deported all the Egyptian workers serving a massive blow to the Egyptian economy. The deportation of the Egyptian workers also meant that Libya’s labor market could not meet the required human resource demand thus translating to decline in production and underperformance of significant companies across the county.
The different political stance was another crucial challenge that hindered the corporation between these two countries. After signing a deal with Israel for development projects and becoming pro-western nations, Egypt also strengthened its relations with countries like America and even attended a peace conference in Geneva alongside other Soviet countries (Azaola, 2018). For a second time, Libya termed Egypt’s action to dine with the West betrayal to the Arab world and boycotted the meeting saying that it threatened Arab unity. The two countries officially became bitter rivals. During this period, Libya was a Palestine ally and had previously been aiding the Palestinians through Egypt. This relation also seized after the realignment of Egypt to the Western countries who were against Palestine government. Egypt could no longer help the Libyans to assist Palestine because the latter was at war with Israel and Israel was an ally of the US, a country which was now a close ally of Egypt. Additionally, the then Libyan president, Gaddafi, had shown his relentless commitment to support various terrorist groups accused of executing terrorist attacks on the Western nations—a stance that Egypt could not accustom to because of its cordial association with the West.
Libya was, therefore, sanctioned by different countries like the US and Britain for supporting and even funding terrorist groups like the al-Qaeda. These sanctions against Libya had a profound ripple effect on Egypt’s economy. The Libyan government then accused the Egyptian government of conspiring with the West to sanction the former. This situation led to harsh treatment of the Egyptian nationals that had been working in Libya (Tsourapas, 2015). The feud escalated with increased criticism of Libya by the Egyptian media. The latter noted the harsh treatment of their people in Libya and was retrogressive and insult to Egyptian sovereignty. The Egyptian government, therefore, retaliated by accusing the Gaddafi regime of crime against humanity and violation of the UN’s agreement on the abolition of the use of chemical weapons against masses. These criticisms and counter-accusations made the Libyan government do what it had always done best in such scenarios which were to force the Egyptians immigrants back to their nation.
The two countries have always wished to improve their relationship yet they continue to experience multiple challenges even today. The ongoing international relationship between the two countries has continued to deteriorate because of the current political instability in Libya (Blanchard, 2016). After President Gaddafi assumed power, Libya had a central government and spoke in one voice on every matter that affected the country. The adoption of the central government was advantageous for Libya since it enhanced trade and international relations between it and other foreign nations. However, after the ousting and killing of President Gaddafi, no leader has managed to centralize power and successful bring an end to the ongoing Libyan civil arrest.
Today, Libya is divided into two major spheres-the western and the eastern region. While the western region is under the control of the current government, the eastern is associated with much lawlessness eastern because of the rebel groups who are controlling it. Most of the time, the rebel groups from the east often sabotage and challenge government decisions and policies thereby raising questions over how much control the central government has on the country. Such hostile behaviors and conditions often push away investors and any other parties that may have shown interests of trading or investing in the country. Because of the situation in Libya, the Egyptian government has in many instances warned its citizens from going to Libya. Religious issues have also arisen recently between the two nations thus further undermine their relationship. Many Islamic groups form the majority of the militia terrorizing Libya and are residents of the lawless eastern part (Ashour, 2015). On the other hand, a significant portion of the Egyptian population is Christians—some of who often migrate to Libya to search for jobs despite the political climate in the country. These workers, however, often experience cases of stereotyping and discrimination from their Libyan counterparts, despite that they are all Arabs. The rebels have killed some of these Christians because of religious differences. These actions by the insurgents to kill Egyptian workers because of their Christian faith have resulted in increased tension between the two countries.
Mitigation through Diplomacy, Negotiation, And Communication
Both nations have suffered adverse effects of the disagreements that have existed between them and have thereby understood the urgent need for constructive and positive relations between them. Their leaders have in the past held different diplomatic meetings in either of the countries whenever disputes arose to seek solutions and foster cordial relations between them. These meetings often result in the signing of agreements between the two countries to bind their governments to work together in harmony. In other occasions, the Libyan and Egyptian governments have also relied on diplomatic representatives or neutral arbitrators to help resolve contentious issues which both parties may be reluctant to address. These steps helped in maintaining constant communication between the two countries and ensure every party held its part of the bargain.
Trade has been another significant way of making the country to sign mutual agreements. The two nations are always in constant negotiations regarding their business relations. They both understand their strengths and weakness which they use as bargaining powers. Recent achievements have seen Egypt export its surplus gas to Libya and import crude oil in exchange. Both nations are also consulting on ways of connecting their oil fields and improve their relations by jointly financing numerous infrastructural projects. Currently, both governments are still negotiating on how to promote the state and welfare of the Egyptian workers in Libya after a series of deportation and harsh treatments against them by the Libyan authorities. Among the options, the two governments are pursuing include declaring a tax-free trade between them and even creating joint economic blocs specifically for the two nations.
The two nations have also agreed on the need to establish a joint commission to help oversee the task of securing their border lines. The action is aimed to stop the various accusations on territorial attacks. For instance, Libya has been accusing Egypt of allowing its citizens to migrate into Libya illegally with illegal work permits. On the other hand, Egypt has been blaming Libya for failing to prevent the Islamic groups and rebels from smuggling weapons and jeopardizing Egypt’s security and safety of its citizens. Both countries have agreed that by joining forces to secure the borderline, they will adequately address and solve the inter-boundary conflicts, a factor which will promote peace between them (Hüsken, 2017). The two states are yet to agree on the best way of securing their border lines.
It is evident from the discussion above that international relations between countries is always influenced by various challenges which are attributed to political, economic, and social ties between nations. The above analysis on the Egypt-Libya relation shows that lack of cordial and peaceful relations between countries often result in adverse effects which affect these countries economically, socially, or even politically. The above analysis also proves that increased diplomacy, communication, negotiation, and trade are some of the ways that countries can promote cordial relationship for the benefit of their citizens.
Governments should focus their resources and attention on improving their citizens’ welfare by ensuring that they foster cordial relations with other foreign countries to enable increased trading activities and foreign direct investments-two factors which enhance citizen’s welfare. It is also recommended that countries often give diplomacy, negotiation, and communication a priority in case of tension and disagreements to prevent instances of where these conflicting countries may resort to war to address their differences.
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Hüsken, T. (2017). The practice and culture of smuggling in the borderland of Egypt and Libya. International Affairs, 93(4), 897-915.
Ismael, T. Y. (2017). The International Relations of the Middle East in the 21st Century: Patterns of continuity and change. Routledge.
Tsourapas, G. (2015). The politics of Egyptian migration to Libya. Middle East Research and Information Project.