Arms to Libya? But who gets the guns?


Christopher Lee

17 May 2016, London

The papyrus of Manetho tells us that when, 5,000 or so years ago Menes-Namer was anointed the first of the Pharaohs then the land we call Libya had no divine rule and the coming of its age was the appearance of a great general.

Egyptians leaders would still vote for that idea.

This week the solemn convocation of Western leaders of the United Kingdom (a paradoxon called 23 June), the United States (disunity their watchword) and various United Nations leaders (comfortable in their moral indecisions) announced that they are sending guns to Tripoli so that the “government” of Fayez al-Sarraj can take on ISIS in Libya.

For good measure, the Western leaders promised to send soldiers who will show the Libyans how to use the arms shipments. No this is not military deployment.  These are advisers – just as they were at the start of Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Sounds efficient use of diplomacy and military assets. The West can run the war without getting into its front line. But that does not take into account the modern Menes-Namer.

Since July 2013 Egypt’s Pharaoh has been President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi. Sisi is not keen on soft diplomacy and neighbours, run by civilians.  He does not trust civilians even though this former general commanding Egypt’s forces goes about disguised as a well tailored and shod civilian.

Just as Menes-Namer looked with despair on the sub-Saharan tribes that ruled the hinterlands of modern Libya, so Sisi cannot trust the make-believe government of the desperately neutral al-Sarraj.   Sisi too wants rid of ISIS in very oil-rich Libya.  But like all generals who say peace cannot be secured by military means alone, Sisi believes it can and so sees al-Sarraj with his head full of democracy with suspicion.  Sisi has his own man in mind for the role of Pharaoh of Libya: General Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar has his army in Tobruk. Like Sisi he has no time for al-Sarraj.  It is hardly the politics of the leader of the government of National Accord in Tripoli.  It is simply the military reality.

Not since King Idris has Libya been ruled by peaceful means (and then hardly). Pharaoh Sisi believes there is no way that a civilian government in Saharan Africa can rule for long in these times.  Certainly Sisi and General Heftier can make a good case that al-Sarraj can never placate the disparate groups of militia sprawling across Libya each of which has a grouse. Each of which has too much to lose, including the day job.

So, as the papyrus of Manetho reminds us the “divine pharaohs who came from elsewhere” (aka the British, the Americans and UN hangers on) may have believed their plan for the desert lands was the only one with principle. The Western gods and heroes in Vienna this past week have harder tasks than who can beat ISIS into submission.

Most importantly, the Western governments have to accept that Sisi ruthlessly controls Egypt and that Egypt has been since the first Pharaoh the centre of the Arab world and that one quarter of the Arab world is Egypt.

The Pharaoh still rules and the USA that gives more overseas aid to Egypt than it does to any other nation other than Israel has to accept that. Moreover, there is not a single Middle East state going through the misery and dangers of transition today that does not ask (albeit in camera) what does Sisi think about this?

Most Middle East nations do not do democracy. Five thousand years of history since the great papyrus tell us that the motives have not changed – all of which are thousands of years older than those who now demand that they should change to Western rules of government and human rights.

If the United Kingdom and the United States believe that by sending arms to Libya they will fix the problem then they may find it surprising that the Pharaoh Sisi will agree.  The difference is that Sisi believes they are sending the guns to the wrong man. Al-Sarraj is a good man. Hafter is a good general. Sisi would bring them together but Haftar would rule. Pharaohs always trusted the man with the spear.

Mind you, 6 October 1981 is always a silent anniversary: the day of Anwar Sadat’s assassination, at a military parade in Cairo.





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