The Islamic Trends In Libya - The Rise, Transformation, and the Future

22 Mar 2017

A leading figure in the Islamic work in Libya, and the president of the European Council for Imams and Preachers. Bornin Benghazi in 1965, and he is writing a PhD dissertation on the methodology of Fatwa in the Western Muslim communities, at the University of Wales, Lampeter. He was the manager and Imam of the Islamic Center in Sheffield, and worked as a lecturer in the European college of Islamic Studies in Wales 2003-2007. He is a member of the Shura Council of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB)


A leading figure in the Islamic work in Libya, and the president of the European Council for Imams and Preachers. Bornin Benghazi in 1965, and he is writing a PhD dissertation on the methodology of Fatwa in the Western Muslim communities, at the University of Wales, Lampeter. He was the manager and Imam of the Islamic Center in Sheffield, and worked as a lecturer in the European college of Islamic Studies in Wales 2003-2007. He is a member of the Shura Council of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). 

The Arab Spring revolts bring back t forth the issue of “Islamists” and Islamic movements and their prospects in the region. What is the future of the Islamic movements, which generally adopts peaceful means in their reform projects, in the face of violent oppressive regimes?

Would Islamists be ready to embrace the new realities, develop their techniques and reconsider their approaches which had resulted throughout the years in the presence of groups of affiliates who are ardently secretive, comfortable only inside the dungeons of their organization, and who are always obedient to their leadership which always adopts an ideologically charged rhetoric, where the moral formation and choosing the right members have precedence over public work and engaging with others. It is important to clarify that the Arab Spring was not the exclusive product of any movement or party in specific, rather it was above all traditional organizations. The question raised now is how well would Islamists adopt the Da’wa-Politics approach that was applied in some North African countries such as Morocco, and could the Islamists leaders be able to draw the lines between the two spheres..? and how will they deal with the new political situation with their internal rivals and external opponents in what seems an open-ended democratic game?

It is true that Islamists considerably suffered the tribulations of the oppressive regimes in the region, and they reaped the biggest benefits of the Arab Spring revolts, yet a question is always raised with respect to their ability to confront the challenges lying ahead in these novel revolutionary experiences and the new discourses they bring about?

This paper presents the most important trends among Islamists in Libya and the developments they are undergoing in the wake of the Libyan revolution after the ouster of the old regime. The paper also looks at the political significance of the Islamists and the impacts of the general political mode in the country in the positions of the Islamists.

There have certain difficulties in writing this paper, especially that the resources regarding the case in Libya are scarce, and the secrecy that became entrenched in the outlook of Islamists for over 40 years.

This is an attempt to identify new aspects to consider in this important topic, and it also invites researchers to take further steps to arrive at a deeper understanding of the situation in Libya, its developments, and future prospects.

The Islamists

The term “Islamists” has been widely used in the current political and intellectual discourse, although it this terms was subject to debate and among specialists and was used to refer to different things the West. It was commonly used to talk about orientalist scholars who were engaged in studying Islam and Islamic sects and groups that contributed to the rise of Islam in the Muslim societies. This research was sometimes purely scientific and driven by a passion for knowledge, and at other times it was a tool for imperialist ambitions in the region.

The Arab World witnessed a spread of new ideologies that influenced some people and advocated. These new trends (Communism, liberalism, nationalism, …) presented projects that aimed to achieve the awakening of the Arabs and these programs were advocated by intellectual figures who promoted these ideas and related them to the West or to the East, and tried at the same time to disregard how these ideas relate to the identity of the Arab people which consists of distinct religion, language, culture, and history. This represented a “break” that was considered by some modernist figures a necessary condition for a western-styled development and growth. This debate took place against the backdrop of the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate, the end of the unity of the Muslim Ummah, and the success of the Western project, which gave rise to other ideologies in the region. This also necessitated the emergence of new Islamic reform projects, calling for the restoration of Shari’a and reinstating the roots of the Islamic civilization. Such reform attempts were advocated by individual scholars and intellectuals and sometimes by organizations and parties.

There was a need to describe these groups and organizations to distinguish them from other reform projects, and thus the term “Islamists” was used again to refer to them.

The attacks of September 11 that were a shock for the whole world, and portended a new era of ideological confrontation, and the worldwide interest in the “Islamists” increased, and the term became inclusive of all those working in Da’wa whether they are groups or individuals, organized workers or volunteers, writers or preachers, peaceful or violent, secretive or not.

A Problematic Term

It is important to note that despite the widespread use of the term “Islamists” that was influenced by certain circumstances when the term evolved as discussed in the previous paragraph, these circumstances were not found in Libya and people did not recognize the presence of such term in their context. Terms in sociology and politics are similar to “money”, which means that it should be recognized by the people to be valid for commercial interactions. This was not the case in Libya! “Islamists” was an uncommon term in this country, after four decades of the rule of an oppressive dictatorship and cultural drought.

It is not unusual for Libyan to find this term detestable, since they believe it classifies people based on their Islamic affiliation, which is considered unnecessary and therefore unaccepted!

The problem raised by the term does not negate the fact that Islamic movements are present in Libya, and it does not undermine the efforts of Muslim scholars and preachers, especially their important social and political role. Therefore we are going to use this term in order to shed light on the behavior of the Islamic groups in Libya and their political rivalry as parties with visions to lead the country and achieve growth based on a philosophy or an ideology known by researchers and observers.

Islamists and the February 17 Revolution

February 17 revolution came in the context of the previous regional and international revolutions that was an expression of an unbearable suffering endured by a people that were deprived of basic rights and freedoms, social equality and human dignity.

Islamists played a major role in confronting injustices and revealing them, and they used every possible means to mobilize the people against the corrupt regime. They adopted several approaches, starting from peaceful means such as advice, letters, preaching, while other reverted to assassinations and armed resistance[i].

The role of the Islamists increased confronting the regime and exposing its crimes when large numbers of them fled their country, and had a wider space to move and organize to mobilize the people and expose the crimes of the Libyan regime and its corruption.

When the revolutions erupted in Tunisia followed by Egypt, the mobilization efforts increased, and Libyans inside the country and in diaspora called to determine a date for their revolution against the Gadhafi regime, and there was an agreement among a large number of people to take off to streets on the anniversary of February 17, 2006[ii] in order to overthrow the Gadhafi regime, following suit of other neighboring countries. Islamists engaged themselves actively in these efforts and played major roles in the most important and dangerous turns in this revolution as follows:

The Media: Islamists were actively involved in talking about the revolution in the different international media outlets, in addition to their press releases and statements in support of the revolution. Most notably, the statement made by the Grand Mufti of Libya, Sheikh Sadiq Ghariani, in a hideaway, using his cell phone to talk to Aljazeera calling Libyans to participate in the revolution, emphasizing the legitimacy of this Jihad and the obligation to support it.

Politically, the Islamists led various demonstrations and sit-ins in Europe and America and some Arab countries[iii], and they were involved in dialogues with important international actors through their participation in conferences held during the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Some Islamists sought the recognition of the legitimacy of the revolution by some governments[iv], while others mobilized support for it, and played a major role in convincing some figures in the previous regime to dissent or to remain neutral at least[v].

On the humanitarian side, Islamists, individuals and groups, played a very important role in providing aid and relief for the Libyans. They have arranged a complete team called “The Benevolence Call”, which prepared the first aid convoy from Egypt, and was handed to the local council. Islamists also founded a number of active aid organizations, such as The Libyan Humanitarian Relief Agency, which helped alleviate the suffering of a lot of people in Libya, and assisted in supporting the rebel fighters in Breiqa and other fronts.

Observers unanimously agree that Islamic Youth were among the first rebel forces to participate in the armed resistance in Zenta, Misrata and Benghazi. The February 17 Battalion was formed by Fawzi Bukitif, Mustafa Saqisli and Mohammad Sh’eiter, Ra’faAllah Sahati Battalion in Banghazi, AlFarouq Battalion in Misrata, and dozens of battalions and brigades all over Libya, that use Islamic flags any symbols. Convoys, ships, bulldozers and fishing boats came from every place to extend help to the rebel fighters, supplying them with arms, food, and medicine during the siege imposed by Gadhafi forces in that period.

Islamists played a vital role in supplying the revolution with arms from some Arab countries which supported the revolution, and millions of weapons were distributed on the rebel fighters, and their training camps were equipped, and training forced took place in Tunisia and Libya in order to capture Tripoli and impose a siege in Gadhafi in Sirte, until the revolution won the battles and the regime was deposed.

Socially and culturally, Islamists participated, men and women, in mobilizing the tribes in Libya and talking to people, and they contributed to the foundation of Tahrir (liberation) squares in the freed cities, which formed a meeting point for rebels and where they expressed their opinions and formed their ideas. These squares were intellectual and cultural forums for the people attending fiery and inspirational Friday speeches that raised awareness among the people and mobilized them. During that period, Libya witnessed an unprecedented popularity of Islamic lectures, conferences, political salons, newspapers, magazines, and brochures.

It is worth mentioning that the early days of the February Revolution were exemplified unity, dedication, and compassion among Libyans in their efforts to topple the regime andtheir collective fight against it with the participation of all the Islamic movements and actors, who unhesitatingly supported the revolution and asserted its legitimacy, with the exception of the Salafi movement (Almadkhali) that refused to take part considering Gadhafi the “Leader of the Muslims” and dismissed the revolutions as “Bid’ah” (heresy) that should be opposed and quelled, not justified and supported.

Islamists Roles in Post-Revolution Era

In the early days of the revolution witnessed the emergence of an idea calling for the establishment of a political body to represent the rebels internally and internationally and to eventually pave the way to the state sought by the Libyans. The National Transitional Council was established on Sunday, 27 February 2011, and in consultation with the local councils in the freed cities, the dissent Minister of Justice, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, was chosen as its president.

I would like to remind the reader at this point of the problematic use of the term “Islamists” when discussing the interim council[vi]. If we talk about the role of the Islamic organization, and the Islamic leaders and preachers in the political bodies after the revolution and the fall of the regime, we would be able to appreciate the important roles of the Islamists, as summarized below:

The role of the Islamists in the National Transitional Council:

The circumstances surrounded the establishment of the council had a huge impact on its performance and the efficiency of its meetings at the beginning. A member of the council stated that there was a “turnabout” in its performance when a number of renowned Islamist figures joined the council[vii], since they contributed to organizing the sessions, proposed many helpful ideas, and expanded the network of the council. The following paragraphs highlight in detail some of these efforts:

Dr. Alamin, Alhreizy, and Alurady developed a plan to liberate Tripoli. This plan was refused on the grounds of the presence of another plan developed by other people, inside and outside the council.

Dr. Alamin Bilhaj also supervised the drafting of the electoral law and drawing up the electoral constituencies. He was also engaged in all the amendment processes as part of the TNC committee, and he relentlessly worked with the civil society bodies and saved no effort to help Libya in its precarious transitional period.

Adulraziq Alurady was in charge of the security committee in the TNC, and he submitted several detailed plans to organize the rebels and contain them. He also succeeded in easing the mounting tensions in the country, and interfered with the case of Bani Walid hostages and he was eventually able, after long negotiations, to free them.

Sheikh Ibrahim Bin Ghashir roamed the country in his efforts for reconciliation. He spend a whole month in a camp with Libya Shield Force in Alkafra area when fighting erupted between Zweyya and Altabo tribes.

Dr. Mohammad Alhurezy, the official spokesperson for the TNC was head of the administrative unit in the council, which is responsible for all the administrative operations of the council, internal and international flight tickets, ceremonies and protocols, and he managed the expenses in with integrity and transparency. During his post as the official spokesperson he helped improve the image of the council and was keen on communicating with people, solving their problems and meeting their demands.

The Islamists are also credited for rejecting the privileges proposed by some members of the council, such as salaries or benefits. Islamists turned these suggestions down, considering them abuse of authority for private gain.

Dr. Alamin Bilhaj significantly contributed to the drawing up of the bylaw of National Integrity Committee, while Sheikh Ahmad Aldayekh (representative of ElBeida city) was the head of Islamic Endowments (Awqaf) and Religious Affairs. He reviewed the structure of Dar Al Ifta’ (The Fatwa Authority) and submitted a proposal to develop Dar Al Ifta’ into a Fiqh Council that consists of several specializations. He was also a proponent of institutionalizing Ifta’ and establishing the Ifta’ Council. He was also head of the media, culture and civil society committee, and he presented several plans, such as the establishment of regional media institutions responsible for the professional training of the people working in the media sector.

On the Tunisian front, Mr. Ramadan Khaled helped transferring weapons from Tunisia and coordinating with the Tunisian authorities regarding the Libyan fugitives and other security-related issues. It is also important to remember the role of Mrs. Intisar Al’qeili, Mr. Almahdi Kashbur, Alhaj Abdurrazi Mukhtar, and so many other renowned Islamists in the council, whose contribution are too many to be mentioned here. These examples prove the distinguished and effective role of the Islamist in this important body.

Islamists and Elections in Libya

The last draft of the election law, passed on 12/2/2012, constituted an electoral system which brings together a “simple majority system” (120 seats) and a “quota system” (80 seats) based on small electoral divisions that allows the representation of the various constituents of the Libyan society, including independent figures and activists in their running in their electoral divisions, ensuring diversity and preventing political monopoly in the state of partisan inertness. It reinforces on the other hand the tribal affiliations on the expense of public interest and the united Libyan identity, where tribal pluralism precedes political pluralism. The electoral law in its first draft allocated 10% of the assembly for women, and was later amended and the representation of women became 50% of the candidates lists submitted by political parties that should alternate between male and female candidates.

The elections for a General National Congress were held on 7 July 2012 in a very precarious situation faced by many challenges. While many observers look at the at the results of these elections, only a few could appreciate the significance of this accomplishment against all odds. It was a step that some actors relentlessly tried to abort, sometimes resorting to violent means, such as setting fire to some electoral points, not to mention the smear campaign against the campaign and the attempts to delegitimize it. Nevertheless, the elections were held and things went alright, and the Islamists were an essential reason for the success of the process. They raised awareness among the people on the legitimacy and importance of the elections as a tool for democratization and governance, and that reinforced by the establishment of several political parties that share an Islamic reference, such as the Justice and Construction Party, Alwatan Party, Alasala Party, Alrisalah Party, among others.

They also played a vital role in the election process itself. They worked hard to educate the public on the importance of the elections as a means to move from the revolutionary stage towards the construction of the state. They also participated in drawing up the electoral laws, and in the debates regarding the quotas and representations, and even defended the process and some of them stood as human shields to deter a military attack on a polling station in Benghazi.

The Results of the Elections

The National Forces Alliance led by the former TNC “Mahmoud Jibreel ” scooped 39 seats out of 80 of the seats allocated for parties. The Justice and Construction Party, an Islamic party, won 17 seats, while The National Front took 3 seats, The National Centrist Party two seats, and Union for the Homeland also took two seats. The rest of the seats were taken by small party parties, one for each: Alhikma, Alrisalah, Alwatan, Alwatan for Development, Felicity Party, The Centrist Youth Party, and others[viii].

Understanding The Results

The results of the elections were a surprise to many observers. The Islamists were expected to sweep to power and win most of the seats in the Parliament, and such expectations even deterred Islamists from exerting serious efforts in the competition!

In order to understand this situation we need to briefly discuss the reasons behind the success of Mahmoud Jibreel and his “coalition” and the declining role of the Islamists represented by some parties (Justice and Constructin, Alwatan, Alasala, Alrisalah) and some other smaller parties. These reasons could be summarized as follow:

- The fragmentation of the Islamic movements and the competition among them, instead of being unified in one electoral front.

- The Coalition succeeded in appealing to Libyans through a collective and inclusive national agenda without affiliation to any ideology, depending on the character of Jibreel himself in the electoral campaign as a popular national figure.

- The lack of political experience among Libyans in general, and Islamists in specific, since they always depended on secretive under the oppressive rule of Ghadafi, and the absence of any opportunity to be engaged in politics.

- The strong tribal structure in Libya society, where tribe is seen as a political identity as much as it is a social one, and it is considered a means to achieve political gains. The tribes are also influenced by traditional Sufi Islam, and prefer traditional non-political religious discourse.

- The structural and administrative mistakes by the Islamists during the electoral campaigns.

- The negative practices by some conservative and religious revolutionaries, such as the military parades, and the insistence on the military image that is no longer appealing for the public and discouraged them from voting for the Islamists.

- The appeal of the coalition to the youth, and promising them reforms and prosperity, in addition to stereotyping Islamists as close-minded, fundamentalist, backward groups who are against sports, arts, and culture.

- The lack of social charismatic characters and the weak role of the Islamic scholars in the Libyan society and their inability to lead and engage in social and political work. The situation was further aggravated when some Islamic parties nominated some candidates unknown by the public.

- The generality of the slogans and platforms with little focus on details.

- The media war among the different channels and websites that deliberately distorted the image of Islamic movements, and accused them of being traitors for the Libyans by claiming sometimes that they are loyal to the previous regime, and sometimes by claiming that they are loyal to some foreign or Arab countries.

- The early interest by Jibreel with the results of the elections, and his understanding of the sympathies and attitudes of the public, while Islamists were concerned with developing their bodies and assembling themselves, without paying enough attention to the people in the cities and villages, and acquainting them with their candidates and projects.

- Propagating fears among the public from the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists in general, and fomenting a state of “Muslim Brotherhood Phobia”, a situation that was used by the national liberal movement to present itself before Libyans as their only savior against the claimed tyranny of the Islamic parties, especially the JCP, in order to avoid the fate of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

- The financial and social support the coalition received from the supporters of the Gadhafi regime, whether the financial elite, who have been in control of the economy in the country, or the public supporters, who saw in Jibreel their gateway to a fancy secure life and a guarantee for their political future in the country.

Islamic Trends in Libya

There are various Islamic trends and movements in Libya, represented by independent Islamic scholars and preachers, or groups and parties, which contributed to the Islamic trends in Libya, and left an impact on its basic characteristics. The traditional Islamic trend in Libya adopts the Asha’ari creed in theology, and the Maliki school in Fiqh, along with Sufism. Sufism, is a popular and influential order in Libya, historically connected with the Sennusi Sufi order, which was a political-religious movement that fought against colonialism, and supported the spread of Sufism, and ruled for a period of time.

There are also a number of scholars who studied Islam and Sharia in Libya or in the renowned and prestigious universities of Al- Azhar, Al-Zaytoona, Al-Qarawiyyin. Yet we shall concentrate for the purposes of the study on political-religious Islamic trends that depends on an organizational structure in order to propagate their ideals and publicize their mission to ultimately achieve political aims.

These trends could be classified into four main categories, which also involve smaller groups affiliated with each of them:

First Trend: The Muslim Brotherhood Movement

Second Trend: The Salafi Movement

Third Trend: Ansar Al-Sharia militias

Fourth: The dissolved rebel groups

1- The Muslim Brotherhood Movement (MB)

The MB is among the oldest Islamic groups in this country. Founded in 1949, it is the most popular, the fastest growing, and the best-organized Islamic movement in Libya. It enjoys vast experiences in Da’wa work, moral formation, and social work, and its cadres involves well-trained people in a plethora of area. Nevertheless, the MB was forced to adopt secret work after it was subjected to persecution in 1973.

In 1998, the Libyan authorities discovered the clandestine organization that was working against a ban order, and a crackdown was launched against the group in several cities in Libya. Many people were imprisoned, including the General Observer of the organization and his deputy, who were sentenced to death. These measures induced a series of political and media initiatives abroad, that necessitated dialogue with the detainees. As one of the conditions for the Ghadafi’s acceptance in the International community, and as evident to his commitment to human rights covenants, the MB detainees were released on the condition of halting any organizational or political activity inside Libya. The Libyan MB in exile proved agile when they reorganized themselves and declared it new leadership.

Upon the outbreak of the revolution of February 17, the MB were among the first to support it, and in the first meeting of its leadership after the breakout of the revolution it adopted a vision to “support the revolution and overthrow the regime”. Suleiman Abdulqader, a leading figure in the MB, formed a senior committee with different tasks related to politics, media, public relations, and aid, and orders were issued to the members of the MB inside and outside Libya to actively engage in the revolution.

I will limit my discussion to the political attitudes of the MB in Libya and how it handled the current political situation in the country.

The MB Political Project

The MB in Libya discussed their options to deal with the post-Gadhafi political situation, and a number of views and scenarios were presented and could be summarized in three basic suggestions:

1) The establishment of a new political party representing the MB as a whole, that shall be responsible for the whole array of activities in the MB, in proselytism, moral formation, social activities… similar to Nahda party in Tunisia.

2) The establishment of a party that represents its political arm. This party shall be affiliated with the MB but it is not exclusive for its members.

3) To call for a national initiative in order to establish a national political party with an Islamic orientation, where all partners play a role in its formation, and shall be entitled to participate in choosing its leadership and determining its laws.

The third suggestion got most of the votes in the7th general assembly of the MB that was held in Benghazi on November 18, 2011. This initiative was announced, and efforts were devoted to establishing the party. More than 1300 representatives convened in Tripoli on March 3, 2011, and elected a president (Dr. Mohammad Suwan) and a Shura Council of the party, and agreed to name it “Justice and Construction Party”.

Justice and Construction; Vision and Performance

The party presents itself in its stated vision as: a national political party that advocated Islamism, and aims to develop a united and developed Libyan state, ruled by the values of justice, freedom and ensuring prosperity for its people. The party is also aware of the historical heritage of the country; it opens channels of communication with others and contributes the development and well-being of the human civilization. It also endeavors to be an example f good governance, push for democratization, and ensure adherence to the rule of law, human rights, and peaceful transfer of power.

The party’s utmost goal is to develop the Libya citizen, who is nominated to build the universe, and to be the center of continuous development, after having been deprived of basic rights for centuries. The party is particularly concerned with the youth of both genders, since they represent the future of the country and the pioneers of its awakening, and are considered the pillars of it development. Women are equal to men, and share with the them the same political and civil right and responsibilities and comprehensive development requires the participation of both genders on equal basis.

The party aims at building a democratic political system that enhances political participation through civil means, based on the values of justice, freedom, and dignity. It shall present an opportunity for all citizens to take part in building the state on the principle of decentralized administration. it advocated a civilized way of life protected by a set of laws and competent and independent judiciary, ensuring equal rights and responsibilities among the people who live in dignity and benefit from the sustainable economic development in the country, within a free competitive economy, to achieve comprehensive development. The economy of the state shall fairly distribute wealth and reduce poverty and unemployment.

The party run for elections and won 17 seats out of 80 allocated for parties, and thus the largest in terms of seats, and had a very influential status in the Parliament.

2- The Salafi Movement

Salafi movement was started in the 18th century by Mohammad bin Abd al-Wahhab in center Arabia, against the backdrop of the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the rise of Western colonialism in the region. It called for reviving and adhering to the traditions of the Salaf (the earliest Muslims) who – in the opinion of the scholars of this sect- provide the epitome of Islam. It advocates authentic Hadiths as a source of Islamic rules, without the need to depend on the traditional schools of Fiqh in Islam, and purging Islam of all the innovations that contradict the spirit and teachings of pure Islam, and condemning common practices among Muslims, that are contradictory to the essence of Tawhid, such as Tawassul and venerating the graves of prophets and saints and all what they consider heretical innovations in Islam.

The “Saudi Salafism” is considered the mother movement, and given the importance of Saudi Arabia, its considerable means and influence because of the presence of The Two Holy Cities and Mosques, this movement spread throughout the Arab World and it has footholds in Libya and other countries in North Africa.

The Salafi trend gained popularity in Libya through the increasing numbers of Hajj and Umrah trips by Libyans, and the influence of the movement on a number of Libyan students, due to the simplicity of the tenets of this school and its ideas. More young guys introduced cassettes and books propagating Salafism against the backdrop of a general Islamic awakening in the Muslim world.

Nevertheless, the crackdown on the Islamists did not differentiate between MB members and Salafis, and every religious person was a target for oppression, including Salafis.

The relationship between the Salafi movement in Libya and the regime changed when a leading Salafi scholar, Sheikh Rabi Mudkhali, advocated apolitical Salafism and adopted a rhetoric that support the status-quo, while rejecting political Islam and delegitimizing its activities. The ruling regime supported this movement at that time, and Al-Saidi al-Qadhafi, the son of the Libyan leader, helped the movement spread its roots in Libya.

Salafism and Politics in Libya

Modern Salafism is not concerned with political affairs, and is traditionally against interfering with politics as long as there is a Muslim state and a Muslim leader. It prohibits participation in elections, which is viewed as one of the Western inventions in politics, culture, and society, and deemed an act of imitation to the non-believers and a deviation from the true teachings of Islam.

Nevertheless, the Salafi discourse and ideas started to change after the huge developments in the world in general, and in the context of the Arab Spring uprisings the swept the region. Many Salafi scholars legitimized political work, and in some circumstances urged people to participate in politics, and a number of Salafi political parties were established in order to take part in the political process!!

The Salafi movement in Libya was no exception, and engaged in politics, with their strong reservation on “democracy” as a term and a process, but they accepted it as a necessary framework as long as it is a way for Muslims to elect their representative. For this reason, some Salafi figures in Libya established their own political bodies and some of them refused to use the word “party” to name their organizations[ix].

It should be noted though that the role of such Salafi bodies and organizations in largely restricted to the elections season to influence the voter turnout, then they resume their Da’wa work according to the Salafi Wahhabi ideology, and launch their campaign to call educate people about the Salafi tenets and the Salafi ideas regarding legislation, the state, women, non-believers, usury, and other issues.

3- Ansar Al-Sharia

Studies show that this name was first used in Yemen in an early stage of the revolutions in the Arab world, and some researchers indicated that it is a kind of adaptation by the Muslims in the countries of the Arab Spring with the this important stage, as Adel Bin Abdullah Bin Thabit Al’obab, also known as “Abu al-Zubair announced in April 2011 the establishment of “Ansar al-Sharia” and said that the new strategy is “to make the rule of Sharia the demand of the public instead of being the demand of the elite”. In April 2011 as well, Saif Allah bin Hussein, know as “Abu ‘Iyad” in a function of his supporters[x] declared the establishment of Ansa al-Sharia in Tunisia. In just one year, the popularity of this conference increased, and the number of participants reached more than 10 thousand people.

The scholarly authority and theorizer of this trend in Mauritania, Abu al-Munthir al-Shinqiti, urged to change the name of Salafi Jihadism into Ansar al-Sharia and to adopt public work instead of clandestine work, and appeal to the public instead of remaining elitism. He also called to replace random and simple work with clear organizational efforts and activities, and to openly demand the implementation of Islamic rule (Sharia). He stated in one of his articles published on the internet that “if some people succeeded in relating their names with “Justice”, “Freedom”, “Development”, or “Reform” or “Light (Noor)” we shall make our name always connected with Sharia, since we are the partisans of the Sharia.”

Following the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime in Libya, a number of Salafi movements using the name “Ansa al-Sharia” appeared, and some militias were formed under this name, having the same demands: implementation of Sharia law, and the enforcement of the political isolation law against all the army, security, or political figures under the former regime, in addition to putting an end to the foreign intervention, and preserve national sovereignty. They also called for fighting in Syria and fighting non-Islamic practices in the Libyan society, such as Riba (usury).

These groups stemmed from the religious Libyan community, and surfaced in the context of the revolution, and there is no evidence on connecting this name with organizations or leaders outside Libya. These groups also showed interest in playing a role like any other civil society institution, and helped protecting the revolution and the establishments of the state. They also provided a number of social and humanitarian services for the public, which is an indication of their willingness to engage in a national dialogue as a civil constituent in the country.

4- The Islamic Fighting Groups

These militias came into being in very difficult circumstances during the security crackdown of the regime against the young religious people in the 1980’s, which forced many of them to flee the country. The Jihad against Russia in Afghanistan also revived the spirit of fighting among them, and it was an opportunity to participate in all sorts of military training.

The advent of the Jihadi militias was marked by the what is known as the case of Ahmed Misbah al-Warfali, and when the group founded by Ali al-‘Osheibi was discovered. After the executions carried out against a number of the group leaders, some young guys formed a group called “The Martyrs” which was also discovered later, and a number of its members were killed and others fled the country. After their participation in fighting in Afghanistan, a number of Libyans agreed on forming “The Libyan Fighting Group” in 1990, with the main aim to overthrow the regime in a military struggle. Nevertheless, the Libyan regime was able to curb its development, and arrested a number of its most important leaders. in 2009, the fighting group introduced their “corrective studies” and a number of dialogues took place with the participation of some figures such as Ali al-Sulabi and Seif al-Islam Algadhafi, which eventually led to the release of members and leaders of the group that made such corrections, and some leaders in the fighting group outside Libya announced the creation of “The Libyan Movement For Change and Reform”. Once the revolution broke out, the movement supported it and called Libyans to join it[xi]. The movement later engaged in the fight against Gadhafi with more than 800 fighters, most of them were in leading positions because of their experiences in fighting in Afghanistan and Bosnia.

When the fighting came to an end, the movement engaged in politics, and an idea was proposed for a new political party that involves the Fighting Group and the Change movement, along with other groups that share the same ideologies. This new party is based on an Islamic framework and national partnership, and was named “al-Watan” party. Some leaders of the Islamic Fighting Group and some prominent national figures and some young leaders in the MB participated in forming the ideas of the new party, such as Ismail al-Qureitli and Anas al-Fituri. Despite the huge capabilities of this party it only won two seats in the elections, most of which are traced back to the reasons I mentioned in the beginning of this study.

Islamists and The Future Prospects

There are a number of factors that must be considered to study the future prospects of the Islamists in Libya. There are two main strengths among the Islamic trends:

The internal strength: related to the religious and conservative nature of the Libyan society in general which is distinct in the absence of sects, religions, and religious denominations and schools. The secular, liberal, leftist movements in Libya lack public supports and don’t have grassroots inside the Libyan community, and the absence of national scholarly figures that publicly adopt and defend liberal secularism, unlike other countries in the region, in addition to the public mistrust in the liberal and nationalist slogans raised in the post-imperial period in the Arab world.

The external factor is related to the strategies of the West towards the Islamic world. The West, after long experiences and relations with the oppressive regimes in the region, realized, that although such regimes are the best tools to ensure dominance, they can do more harm than good, since their oppression is the main reason for anti-West extremism, and it spreads a culture of hate against its culture, ideals, and projects, which was tragically culminated by the 9/11 attacks and others. This made politicians and strategists in the West prefer dealing with Islamists by giving them an real political role and avoid excluding them. Otherwise, the whole region could be subject to a state of instability and chaos, especially that some of the Arab Spring countries are close Europe.

Al-snussi Bsekri[xii] discussed these challenges and mentioned a number of projected scenarios saying: “The Islamic trend in general, and the Justice and Construction party in specific, is facing a serious challenge in terms of determining its choices in the second transitional period. The party and its supporters are reluctant to cooperate with The National Forces Alliance and its president, Mahmoud Jibreel, since it is believed, although Jibreel adopts a developmentalproject, that he is going to lead the country away from its Islamic principles morals, and he would eventually exclude the Islamists and marginalize them. On the other hand, the other choice is even more harmful, and that reveals how difficult the choices are, and that the results, either way, would not be in its favor.

First: The Participation Scenario

This scenario suggests that the Justice and Construction party with other Islamists could fully accept and participate in the project of the Alliance, including the formation of the government. Since there is no sign for the agreement of other Islamic movements to politically participate with the Alliance, the task of the Justice and Construction party, if decided to agree with the Alliance, will be difficult. On the other hand, this participation will prove advantageous to Jibreel, since it will acquit him of the claims that he is an advocate of secularism and that he has links with figures of the overthrown regime. It will also provide him with additional cadres to accomplish his political and economic project, while the public will be unaware of the contributions of the Justice and Construction party for this project, due to the popularity enjoyed by Jibreel among voters.

Second: The Opposition Scenario

It is the most likely choice according to the statements made by Mohammad Suan, the president of the Justice and Construction party that the Alliance is linked with figures from the overthrown regime. Some leading figures in the party also mentioned that the there are very few agreement points with Jibreel, asserting that the party has not yet taken a final decision, especially that Suan has taken his statement back, and no statements were issued on the intentions of the party to be in opposition to Jibreel and his alliance.

Being in the opposition requires striking the balance between fears from the Allinace and its leader, and the possible state of instability that could affect the national congress, which in turn would harm the popularity of the party. This position also requires huge political and media capabilities counter those of the Alliance, which the party does not currently have.

Third: The cautious approximation scenario

This position is halfway between the first two scenarios. It does not opt for the participation, not the opposition, and that is the likely scenario, at least in the first three months. This scenario requires very sensitive calculations and careful consideration regarding the aspects, issues, principles, and policies that could be agreed upon between the party and the alliance. It also requires the Justice and Construction party and the other Islamic movements supporting it to adopt a clear strategy and form a strong position convincing for all players, including those close to the Islamic parties and a considerable number of independent figures who announced their opposition to Jibreel and plan to end his rule.[xiii]

Islamists and Islamic movements will find themselves obliged to adopt a somehow more open discourse that is less ideological and more public and political. The political participation of the Islamists, and the persisting presence of the deep parallel state, will lead them to prefer the criteria of competence and nationalism instead of ideological orientation. Additionally, their attitudes towards their opponents will become pragmatic, tending to striking new balances with the new partners in leading the state. This could eventually result in enhancing the principles of understanding and coexistence as a new approach among the political opponents.

Islamist should also be aware that these revolutions were a shock for everybody, as they happened quickly, and they require them to work hard in order to improve their abilities and skills. Islamists also have to adopt a different approach in the moral and intellectual formation of their members in order to be able to deal with the constant changes and developments in the world. Communities are developing quickly, and they have the ability to produce new inspirational figures, and social and political actors, who might be ideologically at odds with them, but nonetheless exceeding them in terms of skills and capabilities in organizing themselves and lead the civil society institutions.

Islamic movements should not lost their public grassroots in the society and should not stop to provide services for the society. The Justice and Construction party committed a mistake when it accepted ministerial portfolios that don’t require close interaction with the public, and abandoned other ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Civil Society, the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of Awqaf. This move could be deemed as favoring the political and economic project over the project of building the human by advocating new sets of value and practices!

The responsibilities are huge, and the parallel deep state left behind the dictator regimes is too corrupt and complex to be cured overnight, and lots of efforts should be exerted in order to modify the general outlines of this deep state, especially in a world rampant with material and moral crises, where powerful countries and seeking more control through soft imperialist strategies, and pushing the people to make “states” but “failing states”[xiv] as described by professor Max Manwaring[xv].

[i] Among these scholars Sheikh Mohammad al-Bashti who was assassinated in November 1980 when he denounced the disdain of Sunnah and the oppression of the regime, and Sheikh Buzgeibeh.

[ii] February 17 2006, is an anniversary of a popular uprising in Benghazi during which slogans against Gadhafi were raised for the first time, and 15 people were killed at that day.

[iii]Sheikh Nasir al-‘Urfi and a number of students living in Egypt played an important role the political, humanitarian, and media campaigns to supports the Libyan revolution.

[iv] Mohammad Abdul Malik played a major role to convince the Italian Foreign Ministry to recognize the National Congress, and there were several meetings with the Foreign Office in London by Othman al-Sheikh in this regards.



[vii] Considering the Alliance more than a political party, but rather a front or a body consisting of more than 60 parties and movement

[viii] One of the parties that rejected this term is “Al-Asala” movement led by Sheikh Ali al-Suba’I and Sheikh Abdulbasit Ghweileh, who is supported by Sheikh Alsadiq, the Mufti of Libya.

[ix] Saif Allah bin Hussein, know as Abu ‘Iyad Altunuseyy, and called the Skeish of Jihadists in Tunisia. Born in 1970, and he was influenced by his mentor “Abu Qutada” who was living in the UK, then left to Afghanistan for Jihad. He participated in the establishment of the Tunisian Fighting Group in Afghanistan, and was the head of battalions of Da’wa and Jihad in Tunisia.

[x] The Change and Reform Movement called in a statement issued two days before the revolution all the people affiliated with Islamic movements to actively take part in the “day of wrath”

[xi] Islamic intellectual and researcher “head of the Libyan Center for Research and Development”

[xii] A research paper submitted to Aljazeera Studies


[xiv] Professor Manwaring in a lecture held at the Institute of National Security Studies in 13 Aug 2012 said: “destabilizing a country could take several forms, and most of the times they could be (benign) until instability is caused by citizens of the enemy state. We don’t wish to use the word “failing state” because we want to be diplomatic and avoid hurting anyone, but if you do this well enough long enough and slowly enough, utilizing the citizens of the enemy state, then your enemy will wake up dead”.

[xv] Max Manwaring, Professor of Military Strategy who worked for the CIA

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