Without a doubt the news of the week is the approval last Monday by the Egyptian parliament of using the army to invade Libya. Since then the Mediterranean has been simmering. The good news: no more blood has been spilled. The bad news: regional powers are doubling their stakes in the short term.
Today Hagia Sophia will be a mosque again for the first time since Ataturk turned it into a museum. The symbolism, both religious and neo-imperial, is intended to mark the beginning of a new Ottoman era in the Mediterranean. The ceremony has been timed to coincide with the first prospection by a Turkish survey ship in the waters of Crete. The Greek armed forces are on full alert and they assure anyone who will listen to them that should the ship’s cables touch the Greek continental shelf, Turkey will assume full and exclusive responsibility for what will follow. The head of the Greek army went so far as to promise that anyone who sets foot on Greek soil will first be burned and then asked who they are.
Turkish diplomacy has immediately set in motion the squid strategy, covering everyone and everything with ink in order to hide your own problems. The European media barely reported on the pre-war situation in the Mediterranean, and Turkish ambassadors took advantage of the occasion to walk around sets and radio studios cynically raising the issue of Turkish accession to the EU. Objective: to recover points of Europeanness by taking advantage of the information gap so that, if something finally does happen in the next few days, they will be able to disqualify the Greek response and leave Macron calling for sanctions alone.
Alone because on the other side of the scale lies Libya. As soon as the Egyptian willingness to invade and confront the Turkish soldiers on Sirte was confirmed, Turkey began to prepare massive reinforcements for its troops with one hand and negotiate with Russia a ceasefire on Sirte to gain time with the other hand. But as the situation in Greek waters became more tense, Turkish diplomats recalled the Berlin peace process promoted by Merkel which they themselves had helped to undermine and involved Brussels again, declaring themselves the first to be interested in a ceasefire. The issue is… can the EU first sponsor and then secure a Turkish ceasefire and at the same time impose a package of disabling sanctions which would curb Turkish military momentum? It does not appear to be so. Turkey will now attempt a ceasefire to immobilize the Egyptian army by relying on the EU while reinforcing its siege positions in Sirte, and will freeze any French, Greek or Cypriot initiative in Brussels in the process.
In Egypt, the government’s game is, for the time being, to show determination but to avoid reaching a point of no return. The Egyptian media itself admits to being lost and hopes that the situation will change next week. Sisi met Mitsotakis by phone yesterday to discuss a joint strategy towards Turkey.
The swords have been raised.
On the other hand, Turkey is not the only one with two open fronts. Egypt knows well that if it concentrates its military capacity on Libya and the Mediterranean, its position vis-à-vis Ethiopia will be weakened. This week, Ethiopian politicians have gone from celebrating the filling of the dam and announcing that they will continue unilaterally, a true casus belli for the Egyptians, to ensuring that this year’s filling is now complete and that there is still time to reach an agreement.
Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia and of course Russia, the US and the EU are all playing at establishing faits accomplis, using diplomacy as a form of disinformation warfare. Disinformation that is primarily aimed at the general population. We live in a mixture of generalized information blockade – in Spain, for example, the danger of war has not even merited a brief appearance on the television news – and intoxication. Breaking this lie and half-truth-powered blockade by opening up conversations about what is going on with co-workers, neighbours and friends is today a crucial task in order to be able to respond.