‘Why are you worried?’: El Sisi reassures Egyptian people as Libya tensions rise

Mr El Sisi urged Egyptians to stick together

Mr El Sisi reassured the nation during a speech to a group of orthodox Christians. AFP
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Addressing widespread fears the country could go to war in neighbouring Libya, Egypt's president sought to reassure Egyptians, saying no harm would come to them if they remain united.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi made no direct mention of Libya, where a showdown is rapidly building between Egypt and Turkey.

The two regional powerhouses are backing rival sides in a drawn-out battle for Tripoli.

Turkey supports the Government of National Accord based in the Libyan capital, while Egypt supports Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, who has vowed to end the rule of militias in Tripoli.

His campaign to capture Tripoli began in April, but his forces have not yet dislodged fighters backing the government there.

The potential for a broader conflict has grown significantly since Turkey sent troops to Libya this week as part of a security pact signed between Ankara and Tripoli.

The countries also signed a maritime demarcation agreement which expanded Turkey's continental shelf in the east Mediterranean.

In theory, that infringes on a region Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Greece are planning to turn into an energy hub after the discovery there of natural gas.

"I see that the Egyptians are worried. Why are you worried?" he told several hundred worshippers gathered late on Monday night at a cathedral to celebrate Coptic Orthodox Christmas.

“There is no reason to worry … no one can hurt us so long as we are standing together,” Mr El Sisi said at the televised event late on Monday night.

“So long as Egyptians are united no one can do anything to us or drag us into something here or there.”

Mr El Sisi, a general-turned-president in office since 2014, has repeatedly said that Egypt would not tolerate any foreign domination of Libya.

Whatever happens in Libya affects Egypt, he has said.

He has also made clear that Egypt will not send troops to Libya, with which Egypt shares a desert border. Short of moving troops to Libya, Egypt's only option appears to be a significant expansion of the military assistance Cairo provides the LNA while seeking to isolate Ankara internationally.

Egypt responded to Turkey's attempt to gain a foothold in Libya by staging shows of force in the Mediterranean, throwing into exercises some of its most recent military acquisitions including submarines and helicopter and troop carriers.