President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said on Thursday that Egypt would not stand by if any action in neighbouring Libya posed a threat to his country’s national security.
Addressing scores of tribal leaders and dignitaries from Libya, Mr El Sisi said his country’s military could “swiftly and decisively” change the situation in Libya.
The Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar is locked in a conflict against Turkish-backed forces and mercenaries fighting for the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
Libya’s rival government, the House of Representatives in the east, voted this week to invite the Egyptian military to intervene in if Cairo saw a threat to the security of both nations.
Mr El Sisi on Thursday said he would also have to secure the approval of the Egyptian Parliament before his forces could enter Libya.
But approval was a foregone conclusion because the chamber is packed with his supporters and has already condemned Turkey’s intervention in Libya in the strongest terms.
It is the second time in less than a month that Mr El Sisi has spoken about the possibility of military intervention in Libya.
Last month, he said Egypt considered the coastal city of Sirte and the oasis town of Jufra to the south as a “red line”.
“We will not go into Libya unless you ask us to and we will leave when you order us to,” Mr El Sisi told the tribal leaders.
Tension has been rising in Libya and the region over Turkey’s military involvement there.
Turkey’s support for the GNA reversed a 15-month assault on Tripoli by forces loyal to Field Marshal Haftar.
Also last month, Egypt called for a ceasefire in Libya as part of an initiative that proposed an elected leadership council.
On Thursday, Mr El Sisi said Egyptian forces would go into Libya with tribal forces at the forefront and under the Libyan flag.
“The declaration of the Sirte-Jufra line as a red line is essentially a call for peace and an end to the conflict in Libya,” said Mr El Sisi, who was repeatedly interrupted by applause from the Libyan tribesmen.
“Egypt would not stand by and watch in the face of any movements that pose a strong and direct threat not just to Egypt’s and Libya’s national security, but those of the Arab world, the region and the world.”
He said Egypt did not want to enshrine the west-east divide but to work for a unified and stable Libya.
Egypt has been alarmed by events in Libya since a popular uprising in 2011 toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
The energy-rich nation has since plunged into chaos with the rival administrations vying for dominance.
Egypt has blamed militants operating out of Libya for a string of deadly attacks in recent years against minority Christians and members of its security forces.
There have been no such attacks in the past two years as Cairo tightened its defences along its porous desert border.