The surprising news that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have carried out airstrikes against various Islamist rebels in Libya is yet another example of the scope and extent of change in the Middle East. It reminds us that many of the time-tested assumptions about how states behave have to be checked and challenged. The fact of military activism by two important Arab states is on some levels a positive development, but introduces some new practical and political variables.
Egypt and the UAE have been crystal clear about how they view the rapidly expanding threat from Islamic extremists in the region in general. The emergence of General, now President, Sisi in Cairo has reassured Gulf Arab leaders that the destabilizing effects of the Arab spring can be reversed. They want to reestablish state control and see forces for law and order prevail over extremist groups that have exploited the post-authoritarian moment in several Arabs states. In the Libyan case, they presumably acted to reverse the chaos and confusion of competing armed groups and a very weak central government, and to support General Khalifa Haftar, who is leading anti-Islamist factions as an independent actor, not on behalf of the Libyan state. This has led to speculation that Egypt and their purported military ally, the UAE, would like to see General Haftar in power to tame the centrifugal forces and restore some semblance of order in Libya.
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Photo credit: RA.AZ via flickr