CAIRO – Egypt’s foreign minister withdrew Tuesday from an Arab League session chaired by the chief diplomat of one of Libya’s two rival governments. The move was an apparent protest against her representing Libya at the pan-Arab summit. Egypt supports her administration’s rival.
The seats of the Egyptian delegation were seen empty as Najla Mangoush, the foreign minister of the Tripoli-based administration, was addressing a meeting for the Arab foreign ministers in Cairo.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry left the meeting room in the Arab League headquarters when Mangoush took her seat to chair the meeting. Egypt sees the chaos in neighboring Libya as a threat to its stability, with militants using the Libyan desert as a safe haven from which to launch deadly attacks on Egyptian security forces and Christians.
Egypt’s government has argued the mandate of the Tripoli-based government of Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah has ended after Libya’s east-based parliament appointed a rival premier earlier this year.
In a news conference following the meeting, Mangoush attempted to downplay Shukry’s withdrawal, saying that it was “not a crisis but a divergence of views" regarding the legitimacy of Dbeibah's government.
Libya’s current political stalemate grew out of the failure to hold elections in December and Dbeibah’s refusal to step down. In response, the country’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister, Fathy Bashagha, who has for months sought to install his government in Tripoli.
The parliament cancelled its session Monday in the eastern city of Benghazi after it said lawmakers were prevented from leaving the capital, Tripoli, which is controlled by Dbeibah-allied militias.
The divisions have contributed to fresh fighting in the war-torn country. Deadly clashes between militias backed by its two rival administrations killed 23 people last month in Libya’s capital, portending a return to violence amid a long political stalemate.
The escalation threatens to shatter the relative calm Libya has enjoyed for most of the past two years. The oil-rich nation plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians have sought work in neighboring Libya over the years, although the number has declined since the 2011 uprising.
Egypt was a key backer of eastern aligned military commander Khalifa Hifter, who is now allied with Bashagha.