By rejecting President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi's call for military intervention in Libya, the UN Security Council and the international community have saved Egypt from falling into a trap set up by ISIS. The problem will be keeping the country out of its neighbour's conflict. Amid the anger and desire for revenge following the slaughter of 21 Egyptians by the ISIS offshoot in Libya, senior officials and journalists in Egypt are calling for war.
President Al-Sisi, however, appears to be content with an aerial bombardment of what he described as ISIS dens in Derna. In addition, some Egyptian journalists went as far as claiming that the raids were so accurate that they killed a number of the terrorists responsible for killing their countrymen.
This may be good for local consumption but the experts know that the kind of accuracy needed for a bombardment that strikes a specific location predetermined by intelligence requires smart bombs or a very brave pilot willing to fly at low altitude, neither which are readily available to Egypt. The Egyptian air force, as with its Jordanian counterpart which has also bombed ISIS sites in Syria, does not possess smart bombs. Low flying can have a high price to pay, as was evident following the shooting down of Jordan's Muath Al-Kasasbeh, leading to his capture and ultimate murder. The Egyptians would certainly not want to repeat that scenario, although no doubt ISIS would.
The recent united Gulf position rejects the charges levelled by the Egyptian government at the state of Qatar accusing it of supporting terrorism, because Doha refused to condone Egypt's zealous call for war in Libya. The Qatari position is, I believe, extremely civilised, emanating as it does from profound love for Egypt and knowing well Cairo's political reality and military capacity. Those who love Egypt cannot afford to do anything but prevent it from falling into the ISIS trap, drawing it into a war in its western neighbour. ISIS wants war and is not so keen on actually winning or finding a way out with minimum losses, as would a civilised and responsible army.
In fact, ISIS appears to want war for its own sake, for it is only through war that it actually exists. War leads to chaos and chaos is the environment in which ISIS flourishes. As such, we have to realise that the war on ISIS should begin with ending the chaos. It is about time that the efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council members stood shoulder to shoulder with those of the international community, which is aware of the reality of the conflict inside Libya and is pushing the warring parties there towards dialogue and reconciliation.
The UN-sponsored Libyan reconciliation project, which has made some important inroads, will benefit greatly from the backing of a Gulf consensus. It also needs another definition for extremism premised on the fact that "an extremist is one who refuses to participate and share power and resources and therefore rejects reconciliation", irrespective of the banner hoisted or the politics espoused.
Certainly, there is no place for ISIS and those who follow its methods in any power-sharing deal in Libya. ISIS rejects, as a matter of principle, any invitation for such an agreement because it believes that it alone possesses the absolute truth and that everyone else should simply pledge allegiance to the "caliph". The group sees no place for opposition in its political system. Although Libya's General Khalifa Haftar may seem to be ideologically distant from ISIS since he is opposed to political Islam, he is also opposed to power-sharing and rejects democracy. He was the first to resort to arms in Libya in this latest conflict even before the election of the parliament that has already expired by virtue of its stubbornness, intransigence and insistence on remaining in exile at Tobruk, thus reinforcing division within the country.
Libyan reconciliation is the first step in the war against ISIS. Once it is accomplished, all Libyans will stand together against the extremists. Beating the war drums, though, will only drive some citizens into the dangerous embrace of the militants, as happened in Iraq when former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki refused to accept the demands of the Sunnis of Iraq who at the time were engaged in what was called "Al-Anbar Peaceful Uprising", which lasted a year and expressed itself in the form of public rallies. Throughout that year, the leadership of the Sunni Arabs received nothing from Maliki but empty promises and threats along with, eventually, charges of terrorism. He arrested some while others were forced into exile in Jordan, Turkey and the Gulf.
Eventually, Al-Maliki used excessive force to disband the movement towards the end of 2013; his militiamen violated Ramadi and Fallujah; and he detained some opposition members of parliament and tribal chiefs and killed scores more. The outcome was that those who escaped his persecution said, basically, "Yes to a thousand ISIS men and no to a single Maliki." Thus they aligned themselves with the organisation against which they had once fought. A few months later the world woke up to find that Mosul, Iraq's second city, had fallen and that the "Islamic State" had been proclaimed, expanding rapidly into much of Sunni-populated Iraq and into about one-third of Syria. ISIS is still expanding despite the air raids and the frequent declarations of war against it regionally as well as internationally.
Naturally, no sane person would want to see a repeat of this in Libya, except of course for those who think the way that Al-Maliki used to think. The Italians have realised this, with Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni insisting that "time is running out for a chance to reach a peaceful solution" in Libya. Above all, he warned that the continuation of the current war will force some armed factions to join ISIS, which is exactly what happened in Iraq. If only the rest of Libya's neighbours could give this serious consideration, follow suit and stop inflaming the conflict, the better off we will all be. They can't use war in Libya to cover up their domestic difficulties and as a way to justify their failure to achieve genuine national reconciliation that could deliver them from their crises.
Egypt has enough problems on its plate. Loving Egypt means that we need to lead it away from the ISIS trap.
Translated from Al-Hayat newspaper, 21 February, 2015
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.