Islamic Political Movements in Libya, historical revisions of Islamatization of Libyan Revolution

By: Dr. Muhammed Khalid Al-Shaker

Introduction

Chapter one: Muslim Brotherhood and Al Sanusi period

  • Origin and the beginning
  • Muslim Brotherhood and Sanusi Movement, between proselytization and the state
  • The first political assassination in the history of Libya and ban of Muslim Brotherhood
  • The restoration of relations with Egypt
  • Political discourse during the Sanusi period and reasons for the spread of Muslim Brotherhood in Libya
  • The Sanusi period and the secret episode of Muslim Brothers’ activity

Chapter two: Muslim Brotherhood and Kazafi era (1969 – 2011)

  • Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, mergence property and the interrelations within Islamic Movements
  • Islamic Gathering Movement
  • Militant Islamic Group
  • The return of Muslim Brothers to Libya and the initiation of secret activities
  • Saif Al-Islam Al-Kazafi and the containment policy (Future Libya Project)

Chapter three: Islamic Political Movements and the Libyan Revolution

  • Islamic Powers and their attitudes towards the Libyan Revolution:
  • Islamic Movement for Change
  • Muslim Brotherhood
  • Martyrs of 17th February Battalion
  • Libya Shield Group
  • Libyan Islamic Gathering Movement
  • Advocates of Sharia Group
  • Muslim Brotherhood and the beginning of the Revolution, reversion of mediators and uphold of reconciliation preachers
  • Attitude of Muslim Brotherhood towards the transitional period in Libya
  • Muslim Brotherhood and the establishment of Construction and Justice Party
  • Conclusion

Chapter one: Muslim Brotherhood and Al Sanusi period

  • Introduction

Following about 40-year struggle against Italian Colonization (1911-1951), Libya got its independence on 24th of January 1951. A scrutinizing researcher into the Libyan contemporary political history would easily notice that nationalism is the cultural product that resulted from parties and their activities. He will also notice that Islam used to be the main source of inspiration for all national trends in their commitment to struggle and persistence. Idrees, the Ameer, who was the spiritual leader of that struggle, is one of the most prominent figures of Sanusi Movement as an Islamic reform movement. The national perspective is clearly noticeable in the names of political parties in Libya including, but not limited to National Front, founded by Idrees Al Sanusi in 1946, the National Party (1944), United National Front (1946), the National Combination Party, Omar Al Mukhtar Society (1943) and the National Conference Party (1949)

Therefore, the political venture in Libya at that time didn’t produce any Islamic movement or party that were based on Islamic concepts, whether in their names or doctrines, after the independence when the ruling government banned any party and dismantled all existing ones because of the turmoil that took place following the lections in 1952.    

For historical and political reasons, it is not easy to follow-up on Islamic Movements and parties in Libya as the longest period of Libyan contemporary history was ruled by Mua’amar Al Kazafi (1969-2011). He suffocated all these movements and prevented any manifestation of their heritage however old. Therefore, it is very difficult to identify the start date of Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. Yet, it is agreed by all researchers that Libya was one of the first Arab countries that witnessed the birth of thought of Muslim Brotherhood in the context of what was called “The Islamic Revival Project” which started in Egypt with Hassan Al Banna, founder of Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. Later, Sayed Qutub set the main theory of Muslim Brotherhood by saying that Islam should rule to fulfil its existence.

In 1949 three Egyptian members of Muslim Brotherhood, Izzel-deen Ibrahim, Mahmoud Younis Al Sharbeni and Jallal El-deen Ibrahim Sa’da requested asylum in Libya following allegation of assassinating Egyptian Minister of Interior, Mahmoud Fahmi Al Negrashi. They appealed Idrees Al Sanusi, ruler of Barkah, for asylum and he approved their request. He availed a haven for them after they introduced themselves as members of Muslim Brotherhood. When the Egyptian Government asked Idrees Al Sanusi to hand them over to Egypt, he refused the Egyptian request and thereby a crisis started between Libya and Egypt. Therefore, the Egyptian Government closed its borders with Libya.   

This historical event constituted the initiation of Muslim Brotherhood in Libya when the three Egyptians started spreading the thought of Muslim Brotherhood in Barqa and Libya in general.

  • Muslim Brotherhood and Sanusism, between proselytization and the state

In 1949 the three Egyptian Muslim Brothers were granted protection by Idrees Al Sanusi with the help of Omar Basha Kekhia, Head of the Royal Dewan. They immediately started their proselytization activities among the Libyans through a society they established under the title of “Islamic Proselytization Commission”. While the Egyptian Government insisted on allegations of killing Egyptian Minister of Interior to the three Muslim Brothers staying in Libya, Idrees Al Sanusi rejected all demands to deport them. Egypt sent two high officers to Libya to get the three men back, but they failed and went back to Cairo.   

  • Origin and the beginning

Led by Izzel-deen Ibrahim, the three Egyptians founded Muslim Brotherhood in Libya after they got a haven by Idrees Al Sanusi who gave them a considerable margin of freedom to proselytize. Soon, the new movement got momentum as many Libyans joined it. Egyptian teachers who were working in Libya helped in promoting the new movement of Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. 

Idrees Al Sanusi didn’t only provide them protection, but he also offered them jobs in Benghazi city where Izzel-deen Ibrahim and Jalal Sa’ada were very enthusiastic teachers, whereas Mahmoud Al Sharbeni worked in trade with Abdullah Abed Al Sanusi. The three men attracted many Libyans who started giving religious classes in mosques and delivering speeches throughout the country. In 1954 the first office for Muslim Brotherhood was inaugurated in Libya with the support of King Idrees Al Sanusi. This office helped in promoting the movement and its speedy spread throughout the country. 

Just like any other political party, members of Muslim Brotherhood in Libya worked hard to satisfy the public tendencies and demands with the concentration on the Palestinian case following the 1948 defeat. They offered an integrated doctrinal system and a compact ideology. They fervently mobilized people through political promotion.

This episode constitutes the most hectic period of Muslim Brothers’ activities. This is related to the dissatisfaction of Arab younger generations with the rulers of the Arab World. A tense atmosphere characterized the relation between Arab young and rulers of their countries. The traditional Arabic regimes started retreating in front of the new parties and institutions which were recognized with their inclination for change and secret activities, therefore, radical change became inevitable.

The asylum of the three Egyptians to Libya is the only document that marks the establishment of Muslim Brotherhood Movement in Libya. Choosing Libya as a haven by the three men, and the approval of Sanusi tells us a lot about their awareness of the whatness of Sanusi Movement as a religious reform movement which implies that a Muslim should shelter any other suppressed Muslim. Islamic doctrine entails a moral and religious commitment to the asylum seeker. Therefore, Al Sanusi, during his rule, used to sympathize with them although he dismantled all other political parties 

  • Muslim Brotherhood and Sanusi Movement, between proselytization and the state

Sanusi Movement started as a religious proselytization trend ever since it was established by Muhammed Ben Ali Al Sanusi Al Khatabi (1787-1859). He called for the resurrection of the Islamic Nation and unification of the ranks of Muslims to elevate religion in a strong and healthy way. Therefore, he established Sufi worship centers for memorization of Quran, studying the Islamic doctrine and recitation rules of the Quran.

Just like Muslim Brotherhood, Al Sanusi Movement was influenced by early Imams of Islam like Iben Hanbal, Iben Taymiah, Abi Hamed Al Ghazali and Muhammed Ben Abdul Wahab whose Salafi movement was the main inspiration. Thus, Al Sanusi Movement seemed to be very close to Muslim Brotherhood thought in terms of doctrine and proselytization, but they differ in means of proselytization. Al Sanusi Movement didn’t recognize violence for the sake of proselytization. It is also different in its view of the tyrannical rulers, and it focuses on reform and abhorrence of violence. Sanusi Movement admitted violence only against colonizers and persistence Jihad against them.

Sanusi Movement was based on Sufism which is intended to be empty of misbelieves, superstitions, heresies and appeals to the dead persons. It set a righteous course for the elevation of Muslims and bringing them back to true faith. The founder of Sanusi Movement acquired these insights during his visit to Hejaz in 1837. It was a new start of Sufism with slight Salafi touch without ignoring different levels of allegiance of Sufism. Muhammed Rasheed Redah (1865-1935), who is one of the pioneers of Islamic reform and main inspirator of Hassan Al Bana, considered Sanusi Movement as a resurrective movement in the face of corruption that dominated Sufism in Africa.

Politically speaking, memorization of Quran and proselytization centers were a haven for Jihadists. Heads of these centers were the first to join Jihad against colonizers. For Sanusi theory, there had been a need for reformists who preach the right perception of religion because of the disunity of Muslims and their inferiority to tyrannical rulers. Sanusi Movement considered the weakness of the Othman Empire, its inability to defend Algeria and allowance of establishment of a tyrannical regime in Egypt to be a justification for fighting against colonization and rulers alike. Thus, we can consider Sanusi Movement as a religious proselytization call and reform state. So, training volunteers on weapons and knighthood was intended to empower its advocates with revolutionary spirit against colonizers and help them reform tyrannical rulers.

  • The first political assassination in the history of Libya and ban of Muslim Brotherhood

King Al Idreesi used to look at Sanusi Movement as a group of proselytizers and reformists. For him, they were a corrective movement that was very close to Sanusi ideology that rejected violence as means for settling disputes. The concept of violence was fought by King Idrees Al Sanusi, and for that reason, he dismantled all national political parties in Libya following the turbulence that took place on 19th February 1952 when citizens confronted the police during the first parliamentary elections after the independence. After the National Conference Party denied the transparency of elections, King Idrees was pushed to ban all political parties and impose martial laws. Basheer Al Sa’dawi, leader of the National Conference Party, was sent into exile.

On the 5th of October 1954 there was a radical change in the relationship between King Idreesi and Muslim Brotherhood in Libya when Ibrahim Al Shalhi, Idreesi’s relative and royal secretary, was assassinated by an 18-year old young man named Muhei el-Deen Al Sanusi who had been studying at the Islamic Charity School in Beirut. This young man was on good relations with Libyan Muslim Brothers. This event caused a violent reaction by King Idreesi which entailed banning Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and suspension of all its activities.  

Muslim Brotherhood was banned in Libya, and therefore it resorted to secret activities through publishing books, brochures and political and religious magazines away from the eyes of the Libyan Government. During 1960s, Muslim Brotherhood established a branch in Benghazi City under the leadership of Sheikh Fateh Ahwas (1930-2013). More branches were initiated in Tripoli and other cities without any impairment or arrest of any of its members.  

A royal decree was issued to prevent any member of Sanusi’s Family from taking any responsibility or practicing any political activity.

  • The restoration of relations with Egypt

Revisions of historical events show that Ibrahim Al Shalhi had nationalistic inclinations. He brought his three children up with good relationships with Egypt. His son, Abdul Aziz (1937-2019) had good ties with Jamal Abdul Naser. He was in charge of delivering messages of King Sanusi to Jamal Abdul Naser. After the death of his father, he took the position of his father and was nominated as an advisor of the king. By the time his father was assassinated in 1954, he graduated from the Egyptian Military College in Cairo. The second son of Ibrahim Al Shalhi studied at Cairo Universities, and had good ties with Jamal Abdul Naser as well. He was nominated the Special Secretary of the Royal Dewan.

Sanusis considered Ibrahim Al Shalhi as a barrier between Jamal Abdul Naser and the Sanusi family because of the King’s confidence in him as the King didn’t have any children. He, therefore, dealt with Ibrahim Shalhi’s children as if they were his own children as he didn’t have any. In his late days, he started thinking about converting royal system into republican system. He even thought of surrendering power to Abdul Aziz, son of Ibrahim Al Shalhi.  

  • Political discourse during the Sanusi period and reasons for the spread of Muslim Brotherhood in Libya

Political discourse of Muslim Brotherhood was acceptable among Libyans for two reasons:

Firstly, as a political party with a secret program, Muslim Brotherhood in Libya didn’t show its intentions to overthrow Royal System in Libya during the Sanusi era like what happened in Egypt as social and national figures were members of Muslim Brotherhood who told the public that they were members of the Libya branch of the movement. They used to be described as the virtuous elite. 

Secondly, 98% of the population of Libya are Muslims with the Maleki doctrine. They were influenced by the Sanusi proselytization as a religious call for reform and resurrection of the nation. Omar Al Mukhtar was a religious sample of political reformists who fervently fought against the Italian occupation using his strong belief in Jihad and Islamic doctrine.

The proselytization trend of Sanusi Movement, being a Libyan popular culture, didn’t follow the organizational and political perspective of Egyptian version of Muslim Brotherhood. Ameer Al Idreesi’s empathy with the three deportees was inspired by   Islamic and Arabic traditions. His good relations with Jamal Abdul Naser proved this claim. That is why he used to send many of his advocates to study at Egyptian Universities and Military Colleges.

  • The Sanusi period and the secret episode of Muslim Brothers’ activity

Following the defeat of 5 June 1967, the Arab World was overwhelmed by a strong reaction on the public and political parties’ level, mainly Islamic Movements and   parties. Libya was not an exception. Some advocates of Muslim Brotherhood held a meeting in a house that belonged to Muhammed Radwan Haweisi in Tripoli. Haweisi was brought up in a family which used to work in contractions and trade. He joined Muslim Brotherhood when he was a secondary school student, and he was known for his enthusiasm for Jihad. The meeting ended up with an agreement to establish a branch of Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli under the leadership of the well-known Sheikh, Fathallah Muhammed Ahwas. Muhammed Radwan Hawesah was appointed head of the External Relations Office. Muhammed Al Nakoua’ was chosen for Organization Office. Omar Khalifa Al Nami was responsible for Academic activities at universities. Mukhtar Naseef was a Finance Officer. Because it was secret, the group didn’t set any charter or written document. It was all kept in the minds of members of the group.     

In the meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood in Benghazi established a similar entity that was led by Abdul Kareem and Mustafa Al Jihani, Idrees Madi, Muhammed Al Salabi and Saleh Al Ghuol. The two groups in Tripoli and Benghazi were coordinating their activities and exchanging secret information. When Mua’amar Al Kazafi staged his coup in September 1969, the new experience of Muslim Brotherhood was still ineffective in Libya, therefore the movement was not immediately and decisively dismantled. 

Chapter two: Muslim Brotherhood and Kazafi era (1969 – 2011)

When Kazafi’s coup succeeded, and he overthrew King Idrees Al Sanusi, Kazafi opposed Muslim Brotherhood without any official attitude. So, some figures of Muslim Brotherhood had some high positions in the government until 1973. However, Kazafi, who was an imitator of Jamal Abdul Naser didn’t keep this implicit attitude, and in that same year he made his decision to dismantle Muslim Brotherhood and ban its activities in the context of his policy of secularization of the state of Libya through separating religion from politics. As a result, most members of Muslim Brotherhood decided to leave the country and most of them requested asylum in Western countries.

  • Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, mergence property and the interrelations within Islamic Movements

It is not possible to discuss the case of Muslim Brotherhood in Libya in the same way we can do with other cases in other countries due to the different circumstances of its origin and its historical progression. These circumstances obliged it to change its course and organogram, and this affected its organizational integrity. Its influence was remarkable only in the eastern part of Libya, mainly in Benghazi and the Green Mountain where Sufi movements were dominant due to their social incubator and historical background. Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in unifying tribes and they feel proud of historical figures like Omar Al Mukhtar and King Idrees Al Sanusi. But during the rule of Kazafi, the movement was not that influential power due to the lack of organizational structure and the policies of Kazafi who marginalized these areas and worked hard to disintegrate them as they were fans of the royal period. Consequently, people of these areas indulged in other Libyan Islamic movements, whether Muslim Brotherhood or other groups affiliated with it like Islamic Militant Group which enlisted younger generations of Muslim Brotherhood Movement. This group was influenced by the Global Jihad ideology. Some leaders of Muslim Brotherhood, who were well-known to Libyans, joined this group.   

Late in the 1970s, there were dramatic changes in the Islamic World which clearly affected Islamic societies. Success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was the key event in 1979. Ayatollah Khamenei, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran proposed a Global Islamic Project which entailed the necessity of a political revolution and the layout of a new generation with virtuous belief and the will to destroy the crowns of tyrants because they had been sponsoring corruption and deviation.    

The Islamic Revolution of Iran constituted a key factor for the development of global Jihadi movements. This new trend affected religious Libyans. Tape records that talked about Jihad spread in the country with speeches of Abdullah Azzam, Sheikh Muhammed Al Beshti, works of Sayed Kutub and views of Ahmad Iben Taymiah lured young Libyans with enthusiasm and pushed them to establish many secret organizations that were inspired by Muslim Brotherhood. Many leaders of Muslim Brotherhood were involved in these organizations. The two main organizations were Islamic Gathering and Islamic Militant Group.

  • The Islamic Gathering Movement

The Islamic Gathering Movement is considered as the first organization attempt of its kind as it was joined by leaders and members of Muslim Brotherhood from different areas of Libya in 1987. Before it developed its approach to choosing its leaders, it had held elections for choosing Shura Council from which the general secretary was nominated. Despite the iron grip that characterized that era when no political or proselytization activities were allowed, members of Muslim Brotherhood managed to work in a secret way to guide its advocates through family relationships or through raising money for the poor. 

The first nucleus was formed by a group of Islamists who joined Muslim Brotherhood early in 1990s. Soon this ended with defection caused by organizational disputes. As a result, anew entity was formed under the name: “Islamic Gathering Movement”. This new entity didn’t have any external connections, and most of its leaders were assassinated. Idrees Madi, a prominent leader was one of those who were executed in the so-called Abi Saleem Massacre which was committed by the Libyan Regime in 1996. 

“Militant Islamic Group” is an opponent secret organization, which was founded mid-1980s, consisted of young members under the leadership of Ali Al Oushbi and other eight focal members. But the Libyan Regime managed to anticipate this new organization and executed them all. In 1989, Awad Al Zawawy restructured the Militant Islamic Group.

Some of the young members of MIG were inspired by the nine leaders who were executed, and therefore they went to Afghanistan for Jihad. In 1990 Libyan Afghans established what was called “Libyan Militant Group” for toppling the Libyan Regime and establishing an Islamic State. This group adopted armed struggle and penetration of the army for waging an insurgency inside the army. It succeeded in issuing a monthly magazine entitled “Al- Fajre” – the Dawn. This magazine was published in London and the first edition was published and distributed in 1994 by the Islamic Media Office in London. The content of this magazine aimed at Islamic mobilization against the Libyan Regime. Some member of this group attempted to assassinate Mua’amar Al Kazafi, but they failed and the Libyan Militant Group was uncovered.

The appearance of this group coincided with the establishment of Revolutionary Committees which were arms of the Libyan Regime. It is an organization that was joined by civilians and army officers who were infatuated with principles of the revolution. The conflict between Revolutionary Committees and members of the Libyan Militant Group got fiercer and fiercer in 1986 following the assassination of one member of the Revolutionary Committees which were extremely violent against members of the Libyan Militant Group. Revolutionary Committees assassinated many figures of the opposition inside and outside Libya. These assassinations caused a conflict inside the Libyan society as members of the Libyan Militant Groups saw their fellows hanged to death. Between 1995 and 1998, the Libyan Militant Group lost more than one hundred of its members. These brutalities paved the way for violence and counter violence inside and outside the country. This was clearly seen in the literature of the Libyan Militant Group and its publications. Extreme violence was clearly spotted in its approach to change through violent operations carried out through different areas of Libya. Many clashes between members of the group and the security force of the Libyan Regime took place especially when the group moved from secret activities to public on 18th October 1995 when it issued its first statement in which it said that it was committed to Jihad as a duty for the sake of Allah. It was time for the group to publicize its agenda due to the sensitivity of that period for Jihad in Libya. The Libyan Militant Group adopted many Jihadi operations, and that confronting tyrants was next to believing in Allah.

Abdul Hakim Belhaj, known as Abu Abdullah Al Sadek, is the most prominent leader of Libyan Militant Group. During the Libyan Revolution, he became head of the military council of rebels in Tripoli. He appeared on the media as leader of the operation that led to liberating Tripoli from the Kazafi’s Forces in September 2011.

The Libyan Militant Group is the first Jihadi organization that pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda in North Africa. This allegiance constituted a deviation from its original doctrinal principles on which the group was founded i.e. confronting the ruling Regime in Libya.

  • The return of Muslim Brothers to Libya and the initiation of secret activities

Early in 1980s, many of the leaders of Muslim Brotherhood returned to Libya after they had finished their higher studies, and they resumed their secret activities. The most prominent figures who worked hard to resurrect the movement were Immad Al Benani, Abdul Muna’im Al Mejrab, Al Ameen Belhaj and Abdul Majeed Berween.  Former figures like Idrees Madi and Mustafa Al Jehani joined the movement and later they converted to join the Islamic Gathering Movement. However, in 1995 the Libyan Regime launched an extensive detention campaign against all Islamic organizations. Many members of Muslim Brotherhood managed to flee the country to Western countries, whereas some others like Abdulah Ez-ldeen, General Secretary and his deputy Salem Abu Hanak continued their activities inland with other members who were not recognizable to the Libyan Regime. 

In 1998 the Libyan Regime discovered the secret organization of Muslim Brotherhood and arrested 150 leaders of the group. Secretary General and his deputy were sentenced to death. Others were sentenced to different imprisonments. In 2002 Al Kazafi sentenced Ezul Deen Ibrahim, Secretary general of Muslim Brotherhood and his deputy to death. Some other leaders were also sentenced to death. Many Islamic entities mediated to help in setting them free. During his visit to Libya, Sheikh Yousif Al Qaradawi himself tried to convince Kazafi set them free as they were doing peaceful proselytization works as Qaradai proclaimed, but he failed. Kazafi didn’t set them free until 2006 following the intervention of Saif Al Islam Kazafi, son of Mua’amar Al Kazafi who took up charity works of Al Kazafi’s Charity Organization and files of human rights in Libya. Saif Al Islam Al Kazafi succeeded in releasing all of them. Some of the released detainees left Libya and some other figures decided to stay and cooperate with Saif Al Islam in implementing a project that was named: “Future Libya”.

  • Saif Al-Islam Al-Kazafi and the containment policy (Future Libya Project)

In 2006 Saif Al Islam Al Kazafi proposed “Future Libya Project” or the so-called “Second Republic”. He worked hard to attract all political components of the Libyan society. His vision was that Libya should move from Libya of the revolution to Libya the state. To lay the foundations for his project, he started criticizing the political system in the country. His objective was to terminate the isolation of Libya that resulted from its policies and its opposition to the domination of the United States of America. He also wanted to renovate Libya’s economy which was affected by the isolation.

Just one year before the initiation of Saif Al Islam project, Suleiman Abdul Kader, General Secretary of Muslim Brotherhood expressed a real inclination for dialogue with Kazafi’s Regime. That was in a press release on the 7th of August 2005. He expressed his desire for internal reform of the regime by proposing practical solutions to the crises with the regime with the aim of getting the country out from what he called a state of political congestion and setting the scene for laws reforms. He assumed that Muslim Brotherhood had a vision, that came out of the suffering of Libyans, to get Libya to a better future as he put it. His approach was based on providing evidence of the need for reform and that there was no point in silently watching what was going on in the country. He stressed that the relationship with the Libyan Regime was originally based on dialogue since 1999. He clarified that Muslim Brotherhood boycott of the opposition conference in London in June 2005 came in accordance with the project of Muslim Brotherhood which they considered to be based on the real need of Libyans and their country.  

Saif Al Islam Al Kazafi contacted many leaders of Muslim Brotherhood, who lived abroad, simultaneously with holding many meetings with released detainees providing that they stop all their organizational, social and political activities. They were demanded to live as normally as all other Libya citizens. Yet, some two hundred of them continued their activities abroad.  

Although the Revolutionary Committees and Saif’s brothers and relative were all against the project, he continued his communication with Islamic Movements especially Muslim Brotherhood. He bet on partnership with Muslim Brotherhood for ruling the country. He went further to depend on the general Secretary of the movement who was invited to Libya as he was living in Switzerland. He was assigned as Prime Minister although most state officials doubted the intentions of Muslim Brotherhood and described them as disgraceful.  

In 2009 the Libyan Regime terminated all disputes with most extremist Islamic groups, especially the Islamic Militant Group, through what was known as corrective revisions done by this group. This task was done by some leaders of Muslim Brotherhood that used to have much influence on the Islamic Militant Group. Ali A Sellabi, who had good relations with leaders of the group, contributed to releasing all detainees including leaders of the group.

Saif Al Islam Al Kazafi managed to clear up prisons and release all political detainees after a long dispute with Revolutionary Committees which considered Islamists as promotors of killing and torture of Libyans and destroying the economy of the country. He succeeded in neutralizing Muslim Brotherhood and integrating its members in his national project. The coordination between Saif Al Islam and Muslim Brotherhood reached an extent that enabled members of the movement to penetrate the political system especially during years that preceded the fall of Kazafi’s Regime in 2011.  

Chapter three: Islamic Political Movements and the Libyan Revolution

Just after the beginning of the Libyan Revolution, the Libyan scene was divided between those liberal figures who defected from Kazafi’s Regime on the one hand, and Islamists on the other hand. Islamists had the upper hand despite the preliminary fluctuations of their attitudes.

  • Islamic Powers and their attitudes towards the Libyan Revolution:
  • Islamic Movement for Change

Islamic Movement for Change, which is a moderate copy of Islamic Militant Group, was joined by many former leaders of Muslim Brotherhood like Abdul Hakim Belhaj, known as Ameer of the group. Later he became Head of the Military Council of Benghazi Rebels and leader of the operation that led to liberation of Tripoli in September 2011.

  • Muslim Brotherhood

Muslim Brotherhood, which is an extension of the Islamic group that appeared in 1968, was not declared until 1980s, was established outside Libya. It played a key role in the Libyan Revolution against Mua’amar Al Kazafi’s Regime that erupted on the 17th of February 2011. This key role was due to its interrelated connections with other Islamic groups that defected from it.

  • Martyrs of 17th February Battalion

Martyrs of 17th February Battalion was known to be affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. It is based in one of the former military bases of the Libyan Army. It is one of the biggest and strongest militias in eastern Libya with light and heavy weapons and training facilities.

  • Libya Shield Group

Libya Shield Group is another big armed group in the eastern part of Libya. It got support from Libyan Ministry of Defense which is affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood. It is based in Misrata with a lot of different weapons including tanks, rochets and other modern armaments like Long-range Scud missiles and anti-aircraft missiles that were captured from warehouses of the Libya Army.

  • Libyan Islamic Gathering Movement

Libyan Islamic Gathering Movement was established in 1992 under the leadership of Abdul Wahab Al Hellali. It stood in the middle between the Islamic Militant Group and Muslim Brotherhood. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland. It has been working hard to found an Islamic group that goes with the whatness of the Libyan Society. However, this movement was not that effective in the political and military scene during the Libyan Revolution. It was dispersed among other groups due to the control of Salafism and Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Advocates of Sharia Group

Advocates of Sharia Group was originated in Benghazi with the aim of imposing Sharia rules in Libya. It totally rejects democracy and elections, and doesn’t recognize any state. It calls for Islamic Caliphate and focusses on divine rule. All those who never govern with Sharia rules are considered apostates or misbelievers. It is led by Muhammed Al Zahawi, a former prisoner of Abu Saleem detention center. This Jihadi group starred as a Jihadi faction in the fight during the Revolution.   

Since February 2011, successive events went very fast in Libya. Tribes and other components of the opposition areas mobilized their forces to topple Kazafi’s Regime. Muslim Brotherhood returned to the arena with much power, and it started building up a solid base after Islamists popped out to the scene. This was enhanced after the Islamic Militant Group dominated the Revolution under the leadership of Abdul Hakim Belhaj. Therefore, Islamists got political momentum which made Muslim Brotherhood the most influential power in the National Transitional Council.

  • Muslim Brotherhood and the beginning of the Revolution, reversion of mediators and uphold of reconciliation preachers

As soon as the Revolution in Libya erupted, Muslim Brotherhood popped out to oppose Kazafi’s Regime and accused it of apostasy. They went further to demand foreign intervention. What was once the “Brother Leader” in reference to Mua’amar Al Kazafi, suddenly became a disgraceful bully. Muslim Brotherhood used to be a mediator between the Islamic Militant Group and Kazafi’s Regime. Ali Al Salabi, who used to be the mediator in disputes between Kazafi’s Regime and the Islamic Militant Group, immediately stated that the battle against Kazafi’s Regime was a chance for a deal with Allah, and that Kazafi and his sons were going to the dunghill of history.    

Islamic Militant Group, which was later changed into the Islamic Movement for Change declared its revision of its reform programs and its name on the 15th of February 2011, just two days before the Revolution started. In accordance with its revisions in which the movement considered fighting Kazafi’s Regime to be uncompliant with Sharia, the new movement called its advocates to keep silent and adhere to neutrality. 

Once the Islamic Militant Group was quite certain about the international intention to remove Kazafi’s Regime, it changed its course and fatwas. When NATO started its military operations against Kazafi’s Regime on 19th March 2011, and rebels made advance in the east of the country, their revisions and corrective studies went with the wind. Kazafi suddenly became an infidel and arms should be taken against him. The IMG benefited from its experience in Afghanistan and started establishing its own battalions in accordance with the call of Muslim Brotherhood for foreign intervention.  

The presence of Muslim Brotherhood was clearly remarkable in the Libyan Revolution on the media and humanitarian levels. Although it is not easy to figure out the real participation of Muslim Brotherhood in the fight, their historical presence among heads of tribes, businessmen and proselytizers enabled them to influence the Libyan society and Islamic movements. Moreover, the financial support of its members who lived abroad enabled it to spend and effectively communicate with the media and   external players. It was a mother Islamic movement after which many other Islamic movement were established.

  • Attitude of Muslim Brotherhood towards the transitional period in Libya

The Libyan National Transitional Council was established on the 27th of February 2011. Mustafa Abdul Jaleel, a defector Minister of Justice, was nominated as head of that council. Libyan National Transitional Council was a true representative of the Libyan people as member of LNTC stated. It was a real turning point in the progression of the Libyan Revolution for two reasons:

Firstly, LNTC was able to answer most questions about the future of Libya as it contained the elite, defector officers of the army technocrats, academic figures and heads of tribe. This helped in creating an entity that represented the Libyan people.

Secondly, as it was a unified political entity, LNTC constituted a legal alternative to Kazafi’s Regime. This new entity was able to lay the foundations for negotiations and consultations with regional and international powers. It got an international legitimacy. 

As soon as the LNTC was established, Muslim Brotherhood showed full support and some of its figures took part in establishing that council. Abdullah Shamya headed the Economy Office at the Executive Council which was headed by Muhmoud Jebreel.

Muslim Brotherhood held its general conference and chose Basheer Al Kutubi and general Director of the movement following Suleiman Abdul Kader. The conference decided to establish a political party for all Libyans who wanted to take part in the political process and democratic change through elections as it was stated in the final statement of the conference.

Before the death of Kazafi and the end of his regime, no Islamic movement objected to the Libyan National Transitional Council which was formed at the beginning of the Revolution although components of that council were heterogeneous to Islamic movements in terms of ideology and thought. Yet, these Islamic movements immediately supported the new council against Kazafi’s Regime. Members of Muslim Brotherhood participated in establishing the LNTC. Some leaders of the Islamic Militant Group also supported the Executive Council of LNTC at the beginning when Muhmoud Jebreel was the head of Executive Council. The Islamic Militant Group changed its name into “The Islamic Movement for Change” and they joined political enterprise.  

With the development of events and when the end of Kazafi’s Regime was closer, Islamists, especially Muslim Brotherhood members started objecting to the performance of the LNTC and its Executive Council. Ali Salabi, leader of Muslim Brotherhood and member of the LNTC harshly criticized Muhmoud Jebreel, head of LNTC and accused him of attempt to establish a new dictatorship. Ismael Salabi, brother of Ali and leader of 17th February Battalion, affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood, sided with his brother. Both Salabis demanded resignation of the transitional government proclaiming that it was no more than remains of Kazafi’s Regime. This came at a time when the country needed a national reconciliation to extinguish the fire and re-establish state constitutions. Islamists were supposed to enclave all components of Libyan people.   

Head of the LNTC said: “The influence of Political Islamic Movements was enhanced by regional powers following the victory of the Libyan Revolution. These regional powers helped these movement keep their weapons, and fervently sought to nominate Abdul Hakim Belhaj, former leader of Islamic Militant Group, as leader of the Libyan rebel forces. Therefore, I submitted my resignation on 23rd of October 2011.”.   

Systematic support was granted to Muslim Brotherhood by regional powers. This support contributed to removal of many political figures from the Libyan national political arena. This later caused a blatant split of political process which is still paid for by Libyans until the date of writing these lines.

What made the split worse inside the LNTC was that Minister of Defense, Jalal Al Dughaily was an advocate of Muslim Brotherhood. Mustafa Abdul Jaleel was also a fan of Muslim Brotherhood. He said that if he would join a political party one day, it would be “Justice and Construction Party” which truly represents Muslim Brotherhood. Commenting on Abdul Jaleel’s statement, Muhmoud Jebreel said: “It is his right and his own choice, but he is a leader of a revolution.”.

All these led to a sharp split of leaderships of the Libyan Revolution. This situation pushed some leaders of the Revolution to work away from regional powers that were supporting Islamic Political Movements. Those leaders dismantled all military entities and took over all police and security forces in Tripoli. Establishing an emergency military unit was agreed on with unified national uniforms. Leaders of about 18 military groups agreed. This new military entity enrolled 5000 militants. In this regard, Muhmoud Jebreel said that they demanded police vehicles and the vehicles were provided by United Arab Emirates. When police cars, colored with red and white, first appeared in the streets of Tripoli, Mustafa Abdul Jaleel, Minister of Defense and Abdul Hakim Belhaj were not happy with the new procedures as they were supported by regional powers that were not sponsoring Muslim Brotherhood and other Military Jihadi Movements.

This new step, in particular, reinforced split inside the political scene in the country. Jihadis’ influence increased on the ground when Muslim Brotherhood decided to establish a new political party called: “Justice and Construction Party”.

  • Muslim Brotherhood and the establishment of Construction and Justice Party

The establishment conference of Justice and construction Party was held on the 1st, 2nd and third of March 2012 in Tripoli. The conference was attended by more than 1200 Libyan members of Muslim Brotherhood. The new party was inaugurated as a Libyan party with Islamic reference. On 26th and 27th of April 2012, the first conference was held in Tripoli under a moto: “Together we empower democracy and consensus”. This was mentioned on the formal website of the new party. The party stressed its belief in Shura and adherence to democracy and peaceful circulation of power.

The definition of the new party denotes that it was not limited to the national scope. It went beyond the borders of the country despite its definition as a national party. Article 5 of the charter, which refers to the logo of the party, didn’t explicitly use the term “party” with the name “Justice and Construction”. This is a sign that the concepts of Justice and Construction are hollow and unlimited to the concept of “party”. It is a spirit that creeps into the body and a civil project with a comprehensive vision.

Justice and Construction Party managed to attain the second score in the election of the National Council in 2012 and the parliamentary elections of 2014 following its alliance with national entities.

After the election of the National Council, it was time for choosing a Prime Minister. Justice and Construction Party nominated Awad Al Bara’asi for leading the Transitional Government. But Ali Zaidan applied for this position and proposed a deal with Muslim Brotherhood for participation in the Transitional Government, and Muslim Brotherhood agreed. Muslim Brotherhood participated with Deputy Prime Minister and five ministries including Ministries of Housing and Facilities, Economics, Electricity, Youth and Sports, Oil and Gas. The relationship between Muslim Brotherhood and Bara’asi Government was good at the beginning. Before Ali Zaidan started criticizing the performance of the Government, and later threatened with withdrawal and confidence obliteration in collaboration with other political entities. At a later stage Muslim Brotherhood decided to withdraw from the government.

17th February Battalion embodied a true expression of joint interests shared by Jihadi trend and Muslim Brotherhood due to the believes of its founder Ismaeel Al Salabi, brother of Ali Al Salabi, a Leader of Muslim Brotherhood. Although this battalion is a military faction with Jihadi thought and mentality, it didn’t oppose the political process in post-revolution Libya. It took part in security measures of elections of the National Conference in 2012. Despite its transborder connections, it did object to the political process as a whole.

The political potentiality of Muslim Brotherhood was mortgaged by alliances of Islamists in Libya. Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic actors appeared like inseparable entity due to interrelated interests. For example, Libya Shield Forces and other Islamic groups supported Advocates of Sharia against Khalifa Haftar Forces in Benghazi battle. Muslim Brotherhood Movement was committed to its alliance with Misrata Islamists just to ensure dominance of those Islamists in the eastern part of the country and anticipate and exclusion of Islamists after moving Parliament from Tripoli to Benghazi and the relapse of legislative dominance of Islamists. This was clear after parliamentary elections in June 2014 when the Alliance of National entities won 50% of the seats, whereas Islamists, represented by Justice and Construction Party won only 22 seats. Other seats were divided among other civil entities, federalists and independent figures. 12 seats were left vacant because elections were not carried out in some areas for security reasons.   

Merger and segregation syndrome and the intellectual interrelation of Islamic Movements helped Muslim Brotherhood get military and political support from all Islamic Movements as many members of these movements were affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood or even former members of Muslim Brotherhood.

Having reviewed the historical progression of Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, we can see how they have been mortgaged, at their best and worst times, to other Islamic Movements beginning with Sanusi Movement and ending with Jihadi Groups.

Conclusion

Ever since its arrival in Libya, Muslim Brotherhood in 1949, it seems to be organically and structurally connected with Islamic Movements in Libya. It has been able to be impressive rather than impressed. This started with its good relationship with Sanusi Movement though the latter was different as a reform movement. This was done by Muslim Brotherhood without any deviation from its mother organization in Egypt which was involved in setting the foundations for Islamic resurgence beginning of the 20th century.

One of the distinctive features of Muslim Brotherhood in Libya is its ability to regenerate successive Islamic Movements in Libya without being politically engaged with these movements. This flexibility and adaptation capabilities helped it cope with changing circumstances throughout Kazafi’s rule between 1969 and 2011.

Being an international coherent organization, Muslim Brotherhood managed to avoid any classification as a Libyan Jihadi movement. Consequently, it managed to escape the brutalities that could have threatened its existence or changed its course whether during the Sanusi or Kazafi’s eras. During the Sanusi period, for example, Muslim Brotherhood didn’t show their real objectives as a political movement with secret agenda that aimed at overthrowing kingdom rule similar to their goals in Egypt. On the contrary, Muslim Brotherhood in Libya attracted well-known Libyan national and social figures.

At the time of Kazafi’s rule, Muslim Brotherhood didn’t show any reaction to the regime’s impairing measures. Its members preferred exile to continue their secret activities as they mandated other Islamic Movements that were affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood. Many leaders of Islamic groups like Libyan Militant Group, which was put to the fronts of conflict with Kazafi’s Regime, were members of Muslim Brotherhood. The relationship between Libyan Militant Group and Kazafi’s Regime fluctuated between fierce confrontation, truce and reconciliation. In the meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood played the role of a mediator to settle disputes for both Kazafi’s Regime and Islamic groups.

Historically speaking, secrecy has always been a key factor that enabled Muslim Brotherhood to spread its ideas as it benefited from the discontent shown by younger generations with Arab rulers following Palestine war in 1949. This provoked the relationship between Muslim Brotherhood and the formal Arab regimes.

Muslim Brotherhood in Libya managed to be an objective correlative for Islamic Movements while dealing with Kazafi’s Regime. Every time it felt potential risk, its members fled the country or got down to reconciliation. In 2005, for example, Muslim Brotherhood requested dialogue with Kazafi’s Regime, and they settled disputes with the regime. Nevertheless, when the Libyan Revolution started, they immediately turned upside down and fought against Kazafi’s regime.

Through its dominant representation in the Libyan National Transitional Council, Muslim Brotherhood removed other Islamic Movements from the scene. Its members used to freely move from one movement to another without getting in trouble with any of these movements. They behaved like a reference that is supported by regional powers. Their presence in the media and humanitarian work was very essential. However, their role in the fight against the Libyan Regime was not clear to observers.

Muslim Brotherhood is still the most prominent entity among businessmen, heads of tribes and proselytizers. This prominence enabled it to control other Islamic Movements. Moreover, its members who lived abroad made it capable of spending, communicating with the external World and getting to the media.

The Libyan Revolution showed the strength-oriented relationships among Islamic Movements and Muslim Brotherhood. That is why none of these movements objected to the establishment of the LNTC which was founded at an early stage of the Revolution. These Islamic Movements immediately supported that council Just because Muslim Brotherhood was an essential partner in that council. Later when Muslim Brotherhood objected to the performance of the LNTC, all other Islamic Movements did the same and agreed with Muslim Brotherhood. These fluctuating stances made the LNTC was an introduction to having two states in the country, one is liberal and the other is Islamic. This led to split of the political process that Libyans are still paying for until today.


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