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Libya’s new interim leader meets with Egyptian president

February 18, 2021 GMT

CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s newly elected interim prime minister on Thursday held talks in Cairo with the Egyptian president as part of his efforts to galvanize support from regional powers and try to unify the fractured North African nation.

Earlier this month, Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah was elected as prime minister by Libyan delegates at a U.N.-sponsored conference near Geneva. The delegates also elected a three-member Presidential Council, which along with Dbeibah will lead Libya though national elections in December. Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat from the country’s east, was selected as chairman of the council.

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The election of the four was a major step toward unifying Libya and ending one of the intractable conflicts left behind by the Arab Spring.

In Cairo, Dbeibah, a powerful businessman from the western city of Misrata, expressed his gratitude to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi for his “honest and effective efforts” to end the war in Libya. He added that his government was looking forward to achieve a “comprehensive partnership” with the Egyptian government.

El-Sissi stressed “his eagerness to support the Libyan people” on the road to stability and offered to share Egypt’s expertise on rolling out developmental projects to rebuild Libya’s shattered economy, according to a statement released by el-Sissi’s office. The meeting was attended by Egypt’s intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel and Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly.

Dbeibah’s government is expected to run Libya until elections on Dec. 24.

The newly-appointed transitional authorities have vowed to end political divisions that have split Libya between rival administrations: a U.N.-backed, but weak government in the capital of Tripoli — a city largely controlled by an array of armed factions — and an eastern-based government backed by strongman Gen. Khalifa Hifter. Each is backed by different foreign governments.

Egypt, along with Russia and the United Arab Emirates, was a key backer of Hifter, who had launched an offensive in 2019 to capture the capital, Tripoli, from the U.N.-supported government. However, Hifter’s 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support for the Tripoli administration with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.

After Hifter’s defeat, el-Sissi had threatened to intervene militarily in Libya if Turkey-backed forces marched on the strategic coastal city of Sirte, held by Hifter’s forces. Had this happened, it would have brought Egypt and Turkey, close U.S. allies that support rival sides in the conflict, into direct confrontation.

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Months of U.N.-led talks resulted in a deal in October that ended hostilities and called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries in three months and adherence to a U.N. arms embargo, provisions which have not been met.

Libya has descended into chaos and has become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups that survive on looting and human trafficking after the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.