Egyptian president says he supports Libya’s interim government

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CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has pledged his support for a transitional government that would lead neighboring Libya to elections later this year.

In rare televised comments on Saturday evening, el-Sisi said Friday’s appointment of the interim government, which includes a three-member Presidential Council and a prime minister, was “a step in the right direction”.

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which includes 75 UN-chosen delegates from across the country, has nominated Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat from the east of the country, as chairman of the Presidential Council. The forum also chose Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, a powerful businessman from the western city of Misrata, as prime minister.

The three members of the council each represent a region of ancient Libya: Tripolitania to the west, Cyrenaica to the east and Fezzan to the southwest. The country’s divided parliament is tasked with confirming the new government within three weeks. If he doesn’t, the forum will confirm.

The appointment of an interim government ends months of UN-brokered talks that led to an agreement to hold elections on December 24.

“We support them. … We are ready to cooperate with them for the recovery of Libya and to prepare for the elections in Libya,” el-Sisi said.

The Egyptian leader said his threat last year to send troops to Libya had helped “start a real period of peace” in the oil-rich country. Egypt views instability in neighboring Libya as a threat to national security.

In June, el-Sisi called the strategic coastal city of Sirte a “red line” and warned that any attack by Turkish-backed Tripoli forces on the city would prompt Egypt to intervene to protect its western border. The move – if it had happened – would have brought Egypt and Turkey, close US allies who support rival sides in the conflict, into a direct confrontation.

Sirte, which is close to Libya’s main oil export terminals and fields, has been held by the forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter, a close ally of Egypt, which rules most parts of the country. east and south of Libya.

Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The country has been split since 2015 between two governments, one in the east and one in the west, each backed by an array of militias and foreign governments.

Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia support Hifter’s forces. The government in Tripoli has the backing mainly of Qatar and Turkey, whose military backing contributed to the collapse this spring of Hifter’s year-long attempt to capture Tripoli.

The appointment of an interim government was seen as a major – albeit uncertain – step towards the unification of the North African nation.

US Ambassador Richard Norland on Saturday urged Dbeibah, the prime minister-elect, to “identify a small, competent technocratic cabinet team that can quickly gain the confidence” of Libya’s eastern-based parliament.

French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke to Menfi and Dbeiba on Sunday, congratulating the pair on their election. Macron, who got involved very early in the search for a solution to the Libyan crisis, reiterated the expectations of France and the international community and “indicated his availability to support their actions”, indicated the presidency.

A caretaker government would face daunting challenges, including deteriorating living conditions and a rise in coronavirus cases.

The oil-rich country, with around 7 million people, has reported more than 124,000 cases, including 1,953 deaths. However, the actual number of COVID-19 cases, as elsewhere in the world, would be much higher, in part due to limited testing.

Other challenges include the dismantling of many heavily armed local militias and the presence of at least 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters who had fought on both sides in the struggle for Tripoli.

Ahmed al-Sharkasy, adviser to the prime minister-elect, said the caretaker government would work to ‘support and implement’ the ceasefire agreement signed in October and providing for the departure of all fighters and mercenaries strangers.

He also said they would also seek to build relationships with foreign governments, especially neighboring countries.

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Associated Press writer Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.

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