CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s president met Tuesday with Libya’s parliament speaker and a powerful military commander as Cairo pushes for the withdrawal of foreign forces and the holding of elections as scheduled in December.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi received Speaker Aguila Saleh and Gen. Khalifa Hifter, commander of the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, in Cairo, the Egyptian leader’s office said in a statement.
El-Sissi said his government would continue its efforts "with all Libyan brothers ... to hold the significant presidential and parliamentary vote by the end of this year.”
He also reiterated calls for foreign forces and mercenaries to be pulled out of the oil-rich country.
Saleh and Hifter, whose forces run most of Libya’s eastern and southern regions and oil facilities, are close allies to Egypt. In recent months, el-Sissi’s government has also reached out to officials in western Libya, apparently to counterbalance Turkey’s influence there.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and split the oil-rich country between rival governments, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, Hifter’s forces, backed by Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey and Qatar stepped up their military support of the Tripoli-based government with hundreds of Turkish troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
U.N.-sponsored peace talks brought about a cease-fire last October and installed an interim government that is expected to lead the country into December elections. The cease-fire deal also required the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries within three months, a deadline that was never met.
The U.N. has estimated there have been 20,000 foreign forces and mercenaries, mostly Syrian, Turkish, Russian and Sudanese, in the North African nation. The presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries is a major hurdle to holding the planned vote.
Libyan lawmakers have failed to finalize a legal framework for voting to take place, throwing the election schedule into doubt.
With mounting international pressure, the parliament earlier this month adopted a controversial presidential electoral law and said it is in the process of finalizing it for parliamentary elections, according to the U.N.'s envoy to Libya.
However, the High Council of State, an executive institution that among other duties proposes electoral laws, complained that the law was adopted without consulting its members, which could derail the roadmap.