Egypt and the threat of IS in Libya

Jawad Iqbal
Former analysis and insight editor
@JIAnalysisBBCon Twitter

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Egyptians have been grieving openly in a village near Minya where some of the victims were from

Libya is a large country with at least 140 different tribes, and a multitude of religious, ethnic and regional divisions.

The country currently has two rival governments, one led by Islamists in Tripoli, and another, in Tibruk, that is recognised by the international community.

A number of armed factions are fighting for control of Libya.

The violence has caused tens of thousands of people to be displaced across Libya.

Militants linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) have claimed to be behind several attacks in recent months, with growing fears that the country's power vacuum is proving fertile ground for jihadists.

Egypt's air strikes add to the complexity of the situation and could draw Egypt further into this messy conflict. What's not clear yet is whether the strikes are a one-off in retaliation for the killing of Coptic Christians or the beginning of a broader military campaign by Egypt.

Porous border

Precise information about Egypt's role in Libya is hard to come by.

According to Western officials, quoted in the Guardian, Egypt also allowed its bases to be used for air strikes in Libya in 2014. Egyptian government officials denied such military involvement.

Egypt shares a long, porous border with Libya. The Egyptians will be worried about reprisal attacks, as well as the danger of clandestine support for the Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

The growth of IS in Libya is a result of the chaos and violence since the toppling of the Libyan dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The Gaddafi regime left behind few functioning civil or political institutions.

The are worries that IS is gaining a wider foothold in the region, not just Libya. The New York Times looks at how, according to American intelligence officials, IS is broadening out from its base in Iraq and Syria to neighbouring countries.

Political infighting

Others take a different view and claim IS is in retreat.

They point to the group's recent military setbacks, including the loss of control of Kobane as well as the wider toll American air strikes are taking.

How the international community deals with the question of the growing internal collapse of Libya may become clearer in coming days.

There have been condemnations of the killings of the Copts but not much detail in terms of evolving policy towards Libya itself.

Critics say that the Obama administration's approach towards the country has been the victim of political infighting, ever since the attack on America's consulate in Benghazi in 2012.

Libya's rival power bases

  • Tripoli: government appointed by old parliament that challenged legitimacy of last year's elections
  • Tobruk: internationally recognised government, ousted from capital not long after 2014 election
  • Both backed by loose alliance of militias focused on local interests
  • Benghazi: second city and headquarters of 2011 Revolution, largely in hands of Islamist fighters, some with links to al-Qaeda
  • Misrata: third city and main port, also loyal to Tripoli authorities. Its militias keep them in power.
  • Derna: home to Islamic State

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