President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi says Egypt will not stand idle in the face of any direct threat to Egyptian and Libyan security.
Earlier lawmakers allied to commander Khalifa Haftar urged Cairo to intervene militarily in Libya’s civil war.
Tribal leaders who flew in from Haftar’s Benghazi stronghold told Sisi at a meeting in Cairo that they authorized him and the Egyptian army to intervene in their country “to protect Libyan sovereignty”, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement.
The meeting reflects the growing regional stakes in Libya, divided since 2014 between areas held by an internationally recognised government in Tripoli, backed by Turkey, and a rival eastern administration, backed by the UAE, Russia and Egypt.
The eastern-based parliament allied to Haftar called on Egypt this week to help counter Turkish support for Libya’s internationally recognised government in Tripoli.
Turkey has helped the Tripoli administration force Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to abandon an offensive on Tripoli.
Any major escalation could risk igniting a direct conflict in Libya among the foreign powers that have already poured in weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.
In response to Turkish actions, Sisi last month said Egypt’s army might enter Libya if the Tripoli government and its Turkish allies renewed an assault on the central Sirte-Jufrah frontline seen as the gateway to Libya’s main oil export terminals. Both areas are held by the LNA.
At a meeting with mainly tribal leaders backing Haftar, Sisi “stressed that the red lines that he announced earlier… were basically a call for peace and to put an end to the conflict in Libya,” the presidency quoted him as saying.
“But Egypt will not stand idle in the face of any moves that poses a direct threat to the national security, not only the Egyptian and Libyan, but also the Arab, regional and international ones,” he added.
Haftar enjoys the backing of tribes mainly from east but also former LNA strongholds like Tarhouna in western Libya.
But the former officer from the regime of toppled Muammar Gaddafi is very unpopular in much of western Libya after his 14-month assault on Tripoli, which displaced some 200,000 people.
On the flight some tribesmen were chanting “Sisi” and “Khalifa Haftar”, a video posted online showed.
In June Sisi said Egypt could act militarily either if the House of Representatives requested this, or simply based on the UN charter of a right of self-defence.