DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Libya's violent and chaotic slide toward civil war now has two new players. The New York Times is reporting that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates collaborated on airstrikes against Islamists in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. And apparently the United States had no idea this was happening. We reached the New York Times Cairo bureau chief, David Kirkpatrick. David, good morning.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK: Good morning.
GREENE: So tell me what you know about these airstrikes.
KIRKPATRICK: Well, we know that they were carried out by the United Arab Emirates from bases in Egypt. And we know that both governments, at best, tried to keep those strikes secret and behind-the-scenes. Egyptian actually lied about it to the American government. So this is quite a subject of intrigue here in Egypt, in the Gulf and in Lybia.
GREENE: OK. A few questions come to mind after hearing you talk about that. The first is why do these two countries want to hit these Islamist militants in Libya?
KIRKPATRICK: Well, you've got to draw back the picture to look at the whole region in the aftermath of the Arab strike three years ago. There's a kind of cold war going on across the region between the forces of political Islam that have been emboldened to move forward in the wake of that democratic uprising and the force of stability, as they see themselves, or as we would put it, the kind of old-style militaristic era of autocracies.
GREENE: This would be Egypt - a government that, of course, kicked the Muslim Brotherhood out of the leadership of their country. They see themselves a sort of pushing back against Islam and bringing stability.
KIRKPATRICK: Yeah. They see this tide of radical Islam that, in their view, is inimical to states and nations - to the old order. And in Libya, they see an opportunity to try to turn the tide. I mean, the chaos of post-Gaddafi Lybia has devolved recently into a kind of civil war, which is largely along kind of tribal or regional lines in most of the country, but it has an ideological overlay.
GREENE: And so you mention these countries kept these airstrikes a secret from U.S. diplomats. Why did they do that?
KIRKPATRICK: Well, it really is a measure of the deep distrust of the Obama administration here in Cairo and also the Gulf. You'll remember that the Obama administration and the American government recognized the elected president of Egypt even when that president was an Islamist - President Mohamed Morsi. The new military government that removed President Morsi is not quite ready to forgive that. And the Obama administration has not been fully supportive of the new government, either, because it has killed a lot of people as it's tried to re-establish control.
GREENE: David, this sounds like a scary situation - having outside powers in the neighborhood supporting opposing sides in what is developing into a civil war here in Lybia. I mean, how bad could things get here?
KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, it sounds that way to me, too. It sounds like it could get pretty bad. I mean, let's be clear. It's already terrible in Libya. I mean, the situation is bad and getting worse without any help from outside countries. You know, you have this patchwork of rival cities and tribes and militias choosing up sides for a kind of national conflagration for the first time. That's already very bad. I mean, the capital - the city of Tripoli - is already a war zone and so is the second city - in Benghazi. And now when you add to that that these foreign powers are not only engaging in a kind of proxy war, but are themselves launching airstrikes. This is a serious escalation of the proxy fight.
GREENE: That's David Kirkpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times speaking to us about the situation in Lybia. David, thanks very much.
KIRKPATRICK: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.