Political Islam in Libya

By: Abdel Moneim El-Shoumani, a researcher and a writer from Libya.

In this research, the author highlights the role of different political Islam streams at the end of Gaddafi times to the Libyan revolution context, and to this day. This is through the following research areas:

  • Political Islam prior to the Libyan revolution.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood before and post the Libyan revolution.
  • The Salafist Movement appearance approaches before the Libyan revolution, and its cooperation with the military general Hafter during the revolution time
  • Salafi Jihadism
  • The Libyan fighting group
  • Pro-Sharia group
  • Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Daesh)
  • Conclusion

The State of Libya – Prior to the Revolution:

Prior the Libyan revolution, or Spring as commonly known; the Libyan state during Al-Gaddafi was considered as a totalitarian state; where political parties formation is strictly forbidden, as well as civil society institutions. In which this period have experienced several local conflicts with various Islamic groups in Libya. Furthermore, Libya was known as a prominent Sufi state, excluding the Ibaddi creed. However, the majority creed and Fiqh principles were taught in the Libyan universities, and religious institutions. 

Later in time, Al-Gaddafi was not satisfied with the Sufism spiritual attachment to the Sanusian king, whom he belonged to the Sanusian methodology. Consequently, he closed down Al Sayyed bin Ali Al-Sanusi University in Al-Baydaa city and all related religious institutions; followed by demolishing operation of Mohammad ibn Ali Al-Sanusi tomb in Al-Jaghboob city, in addition to exhuming the body and throw it into the desert.

Over a decade, the entire country became empty religious capacities, and ready to receive new arrivals. Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood individuals, were granted

In the course of a decade, the country has become empty of its jurisprudent cadres and is ready to receive the new arrivals. Here, its noteworthy to mention that Muslim Brotherhood movement including all its members, were granted political asylum into Libya during the Kind Senusi era, this when they traveled from Egypt to Libya, however, the Muslim Broth hood movement back then had a limited influential role. Later in time, when Al Ghaddafi held he spotted students who believed in the Muslim Brotherhood principles, hence, he arrested them all, but some them was able to escape the prison.

As conflicts were raising along the country, and the weakness of Al Ghaddafi’s security institutions to observe and control intellectual flow within universities, the Salafist & Jihadist ideology leaked into the society in line with what was called back then “The Islamic Awakening” in concurrence with the end of the Soviet – Afghani war, and the return of fugitives to Libya, and formed groups to spread Salafist ideology through the dissemination of a large number of books, leaflets, and many written and visual materials imported from Saudi Arabia to Libya almost with zero costs.

The Ministry of Awqaf has lost many its key cards, and its jurisprudential cadres, in addition to the control of security institutions, the Salafist ideology of both Salafism and Salafist Jihadism became more dominant, But the influence of these movements was evident in the Libyan society, the women custom dressing have changed into ABAYAA style (common women dressing in the gulf region), the release beards for men, and long men dressing.

On a different note, and despite the fact that Gaddafi has sent a large number of young people belonging to extremism groups into prisons, their ideology recorded a noticeable growth. Consequently, the country has seen a decline in its affiliation to Al-Maliki school and the Ash’ari faith, especially in the country’s east side. With the imminent start of the revolution, the most prominent religious groups exist in Libya were as follows: Salafist, Jihadi, and Muslim Brotherhood. We will review the role of each of them in the stages of the Libyan revolution.

1. The Muslim Brotherhood Movement:

At the beginning of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood movement was in a state of reconciliation with the regime. The moment prisoners were allowed to enter the regime, and to deliver trainings and talks, but this situation underwent a major transformation when the revolution began. Demonstrators contributed to the revolution and the factions close to them, have tried even after the start of the protests to reach a formula of reforms with the system.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood movement with time focused its efforts on imposing its presence in the revolution new institutions, and entered into a conflict with the civil society, and launched by some of the figures attributed to the secular trend. Additionally, started to set up a battle in advance, which intended to remove some of the influential figures in the state.

During the military operations with the regime in the gulf of Sirte, a number of multitudes were formed from the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and those close to them. These factions received great military support, and some officers belonging to the revolution faced this with protest and denial. However, Gaddafi’s presence in Tripoli led some to postpone the conflict. Post-Gaddafi time, the city of Benghazi, which was the capital before the rebels took control of Tripoli, witnessed an alliances between the Muslim Brotherhood and the non-mainstream Islamists, which was clear in a prominent role in the local elections. The division was clear among the Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Liberals and Barqawi forces.

The Muslim Brotherhood held its first conference in Libya openly in the city of Benghazi. The conference was widely covered and the movement decided to establish a political party, and open participation to external institutions. After few month “the Justice & Building Party” was founded and formed, where one of the Brotherhood’s former prisoners (Mohammad Sawan) was elected as the party’s president.

The National Assembly elections (the first legislative body after the revolution) was the first test of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its allies, the party lost against the party of the National Alliance of Forces headed by Mahmoud Jibril, and the statement of the party’s president “the Justice & Building” party shocked many people, and felt like accusing the majority. Later in time, the party held alliances within the “National Assembly” especially with Islamic figures, whom entered the conference through individual lists.

The intensity of the conflict within the National Assembly have witnessed a clear convergence among Muslim Brotherhood leaders of and jihadist groups – even those who reject democracy – and the media screens became an open areas to present each side of the conflict, and gradually dragged the citizen into a sharp polarization in order to support religion.

During this phase, the Muslim Brotherhood cadres were able to respond to any political statement or regional demands, and the control role exercised by the Muslim Brotherhood, played a greater role in mobilizing more opponents and enemies.

Although the stereotype promoted in the Libyan street is that the Muslim Brotherhood is very organized and educated, their practices during 2012 and 2013 revealed the absence of political awareness, lack of professionalism & cadres, and the increasing number of assassinations in Benghazi; All were pointed towards the Islamic jihadist crowds, where it was usual for some members of the Muslim Brotherhood to appear in the media to accuse the followers of Gadhafi of carrying out those acts and defending the so-called revolutionaries, while the battalions accused, such as the Ansar al-Sharia and others, do not categorically deny these actions.

There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood’s insistence on staying closer to Islamist groups opposed to democratic action, such as “Ansar al-Sharia movement” and away from the partners in the democratic process, has had a negative impact on the growing movement and growing hostility to the Brotherhood and their loss of support for a broad sector in the street.

The movement of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political party itself (the lawyer) of the revolution and the revolutionaries and neglected to listen to the calls of a group of the street, especially in Benghazi, whether the claim of that category regional or civil, such as the removal of the armed battalions from Benghazi.

There is no doubt that the entry in the battle of (faith and disbelief) in the Libyan revolution or (defender of law and the aggressor it) of the Muslim Brotherhood movement has contributed to the corruption of the democratic political action and allowed more radical groups to grow, and then got involved in alliances with them and ignite a civil war that has been torturing all human values ​​from all the warring parties and the area of ​​neutrality has become much narrower.

The loss of the compass and its absence in the Muslim Brotherhood and its political party made its practice of political action a state of disorientation in the jungle that it could not find.

Here it should be noted that the calls started from within the group to resolve the whole organization and integration of its members into society as the public freedoms after the revolution and the beginning of a new reality in the country requires the end of that era, its ideas and tools are all implemented, but those calls have not received what appeared to fall on deaf ears, and the spirit backed by the buffoon of the defense of the law is capable of silencing any sound of the mind.

2. The Salafist portal:

It is difficult to determine accurately and scientifically when the Wahhabi ideology entered Libya for lack of scientific documentation. But the 1980s witnessed the beginning of the Wahhabism in the Libyan scene. Armed clashes took place in the mid-1980s. The Wahhabi movement was supportive of the Afghans in their war with the Russians. The religious nature of that war and made it a war between disbelief and faith – despite the sectarian differences between the Afghan components and the Wahhabi movement – and with the return of the so-called “Afghan Mujahideen” to their countries, including Libya, the first armed shocks and the intensification of the security grip, Libya is purely an external groups, it has been the rivalry between Saudi state and Osama bin Laden in the position of Iraq and Kuwait war and the use of the Americans obviously influence in the Libyan arena, as the Wahhabi movement in Libya was divided into two parts:

First: The Hands of Bin-Laden:

Second: supported the position of the Ifta in Saudi Arabia, as we have seen thousands of proofs supporting and opposing the legitimacy of the use of the Americans or deny it, and thus became the name of Salafism in Libya called a community concerned with the external appearance of the exemption of beards and short pants and call to oby the roles- noting that the atonement of Gaddafi was agreed by both parties – and with support The Saudi of books, brochures, audio tapes and videos of the elders of the official Salafi movement in Saudi Arabia.

 The emergence of the movement, despite the fact that the regime was bred by its members and does not differentiate between them and the dissident factions affiliated with Osama bin Laden’s jihadist ideology. However, with the armed clashes in Benghazi and Derna in the 1990s and after all the parties were imprisoned, Salafism subsided and members of the movement were assigned to the state by the imam of the mosques. With the death of Sheikh al-Albani and priorto him bin Baz became the actual loyalty of the movement to Sheikh Rabie al-Madhali, there were splits among the members of the movement and became the Salafist portal is the most visible in the Libyan street.

It should be noted that the son of al-Gaddafi al-Saadi joined the Salafi movement and visited a number of senior elders, which eased the relationship with the Libyan regime.

With the beginning of the revolution, the position of the Salafist movement was clear from the lack of support and considered a departure from the guardian. Despite the fatwas issued by the leaders of the Salafi movement in Saudi Arabia, Rather than Salafists.

In fact, the years following the revolution witnessed almost complete possession of the intervention on the platforms and distributed hundreds of thousands of brochures that promote the sheikhs of the intervention and warn people of the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood and secular democracy.

Most of the Libyan cities have seen, if not all, the launch of broadcast channels of audiovisual input, and these radio stations to warn of democracy and demonstrations as a secular and Muslim Brotherhood and they disregard the mention of God.

During the National Convention elections – which was the first electoral exercise for the Libyan people – they went through the platforms to warn people not to go to elections, as they would influence the Brotherhood’s call. The year 2012 saw a campaign on the shrines and detonated with explosive devices and Facebook pages published news about the bombing and describing the act in favor of unification.

Entrance and Hafter:

With the increase of the street congestion against the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood and the fighting group, the two movements in force in the state at the time, began the process of dignity led by General Hafter, and the current contribution to support the fatwas and rhetoric and speeches inciting the fight (Kharij) and thus became the Libyan state in the case of actual division between East and West , and on both sides are shipping people with religious slogans that it is a war to support the religion of God and that the victim is a martyr.

It should be noted that the position of the current in the western region of Libya has not resorted to armed clashes with the rest of the factions that are intellectually opposed, despite the possession of a number of armed brigades, although the clash of rhetoric exists.

But the influence of the input in the east of the country has become apparent and the country has visited official visits to the elders of different countries to give speeches and lectures, and it is common to see officers of the regular institutions with short trousers and pants, and became the Endowments Authority in the eastern Libyan role similar to the Ifta in the west of the country, In all matters related to public affairs and the most famous incidents the confiscation of books that were described as anti-Islamic and the position of celebrating the Land Day held in Benghazi.

  • Salafi Jihadist

Which took various forms, including:

  • Libyan Fighting Group (LIFG):

The LIFG is one of the Salafist groups that grew up in Afghanistan during the Afghan-Soviet war. However, the disagreement between its leaders with bin Laden and the lack of involvement of the LIFG within the Al-Qaeda organization is very difficult for them there. Some of them returned during the 1990s and the country witnessed an armed clash with the regime, and attempts to assassinate Gaddafi and carry out several suicide attacks.

The group distributed several audiotapes and books promoting the jihadist ideology and succeeded in attracting a number of young people in that era. With the openness of the regime and the emergence of Saif al-Islam and opening it to dialogue with the opposing forces, the LIFG leaders in the prison released their statements, Libyan state television to declare their repentance of extremist ideology.

But with the start of demonstrations and the occurrence of a clash with the security forces, the leaders of the Libyan Fighting Group rushed to put an end to the situation of reconciliation with the regime and joined the revolution that turned into an armed revolution and formed combat battalions of former prisoners of the group and provide support for the weapons and entered the battlefield jihad slogans and call for the arbitration of the law of God and that Is the demand of revolution.

International satellite channels showed the leader of the LIFG as a moderate rebel and one of the most prominent leaders of the Libyan revolution. He highlighted his role in entering Bab al-Aziziyah and also in the declaration of the death of Gaddafi, although he was not in Sirte at the time of the incident.

With the transfer of the new authority to the capital of Tripoli, the group’s clear control of the Ministry of Defense and the placement of its hands on the most important offices of the former security regime and became important documents under its control.

Despite the party’s failure in the National Convention elections, the group’s control of the Ministry of Defense and its administration of some prisons made it a center of power in the capital, Tripoli, if not the highest force.

With the wave of assassinations in Benghazi, some members of the militant ideology were accused of carrying out assassinations. But with the lack of appearance of the leaders of the fighters in the media is difficult to determine their position of the incidents that occurred during the three years of the revolution, but their influence was tangible and support of the extremist groups in Benghazi and Derna in particular.

Especially with the growing support of the jihadi battalions which were considered to be under the authority of the Ministry of Defense after the revolution and managed by civil figures while maintaining the Salafist appearance in dress and exemption of beards.

Ansar Al-Sharia:

It was stated that bin Laden had decided to change the name of his organization by that name or recommended some of his followers, and announced the establishment of Ansar al-Sharia battalion in Libya in the city of Benghazi of jihadists in the city and cities, but soon expanded the activity of the battalion to include clinics of Quranic treatment and charity work and also with the continuation of military training and the launch of an audiovisual broadcast promoting its thought, which was considered a continuation of the thought of al-Qaeda with different name only.

The statements of the supporters of the Sharia met with the rest of the Salafist groups in the expiation of democracy and met with the rest of the other movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood in the dream of establishing the so-called state of succession and the link between the rules of religion.

At the beginning of the assassinations, the movement was accused of being a leader whose leaders did not show much in the media. The Brotherhood’s media was responsible for defending them and accusing others.

The first official accusation of Ansar al-Sharia appeared in foreign media after the US ambassador was killed in Benghazi.

One of its commanders was arrested near Benghazi in an American operation that took place without an armed clash.

Despite the denial of the leader of the Ansar al-Sharia battalion in several television interviews for the battalion’s connection with al-Qaeda, the ideological and methodological connection was clear in the context of their statement of democracy and regular government forces, and the concept of dictatorship and rule requiring the atonement of members of these forces or the recruitment of their members at best.

Hence, the battalion was transformed into an organization that grows every day and grows its influence, especially in Benghazi, Sirte and Derna, and the Ansar al-Sharia organization has become an atheist organization that exposes some public figures through its radio broadcasts in the absence or weakness of the state’s security apparatuses.

With the growing organization of a preacher in Iraq and Syria and the so-called declaration of the Islamic state, a number of members of the Ansar al-Sharia organization pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi Khalifeh of Muslims and broadcast an official allegiance from Derna to al-Baghdadi.

With the start of the movement of dignity, the leader of the Ansar al-Sharia movement in Benghazi, Benghazi turned into a jihad square and called for the opening of the Mujahideen, all from different countries of the world.

Organization of Islamic State (Dahesh):

With the transformation of the Syrian revolution into a sectarian war, a number of Libyan youth traveled to Syria; most of them were jihadists. As the rise of the star of the state organization and the declaration of the so-called Khilafah state, which was the dream of Islamic groups and differed in their ways of return, And the call to travel to it, and at another stage we see the allegiance and accession to the organization, and although the existence of the actual organization has already been announced, as attributed to some of the acts that witnessed the attack on regular forces; as happened in the slaughter of soldiers near the city of Sukkah, which has been declared allegiance Baghdadi Officially in one Friday Medicine in Sirte.

The organization exploited the launch of the process of dignity in Benghazi against the Islamic armed battalions in it to increase the polarization of more of the salesmen, and announce its full appearance in Derna and Sirte and declare them two affiliates, and enter the conflict in Benghazi and broadcast his propaganda videos showing abuse and beheadings, The Libyan west, and so the threat of organization appeared clear, which called on the world to launch sirens for fear of the control of the organization on Libya in full.

Despite the defeat of the organization in the east of the country and marched, some of them are still afraid of his return. But the emergence of the organization in Libya and its collapse a rapid collapse raises questions about the size of its strength, and its dependence on Hollywood propaganda and the force of abuse and bloodshed. There is no doubt that the organization of  Daesh was one of the influential forces in Libya during the years 2015 and 2016 and left traces may need the Libyan society for a long time before recovering from them.

  • The conclusion:

There is no doubt that the Islamic groups – with their different orientations – were a factor in the Libyan revolution after its inception and until after the fall of the regime, and a factor of relapse and transformation of the Libyan conflict into a religious conflict and polarization stemming from the pursuit of monopolization of Libyan society, religiously, culturally and politically.

There is no doubt that the religious conflict in Libya is new to the Libyan society, which is not familiar with this type of conflict in a country dominated by tribal and regional conflicts regardless of the doctrine.

Below is a table showing the position of religious groups in Libya on some important issues.

The caseMuslim BrotherhoodAl-ModakhlaLibyan FightersSharia SupportersISIS
DemocracyPracticedNot PracticedPracticedNot PracticedNot Practiced
SecularismHostility on religious basisHostility on religious basisHostility on religious basisHostility on religious basisHostility on religious basis
Women issuesFrom Religious PerspectiveFrom Religious PerspectiveFrom Religious PerspectiveFrom Religious PerspectiveFrom Religious Perspective
Head of StateReligious PositionReligious PositionReligious PositionReligious PositionReligious Position

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