[Dehai-WN] BBC: Fears over Islamists within Libyan rebel ranks

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Aug 31 2011 - 17:34:04 EDT

Fears over Islamists within Libyan rebel ranks

31 August 2011 Last updated at 11:21 GMT

Islamists have played an important part in the uprising against Col Muammar
Gaddafi, sparking concern about what role they will play in the new Libya,
writes Middle East analyst Omar Ashour.

Abdul Hakim Belhaj spearheaded the attack on Col Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya
compound, but the commander of the newly-formed Tripoli Military Council is
raising red flags in the West.

Mr Belhaj - known in the jihadi world as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq - is the
former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a jihadist
organisation with historical links to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the
al-Jihad organisation in Egypt.

Established in 1990, the LIFG led a three-year low-level insurgency mainly
based in eastern Libya, and staged three attempts to assassinate Col Gaddafi
in 1995 and 1996. By 1998, the group was crushed.

Mr Belhaj spent time in the notorious Abu Salim Prison, before being freed
in 2010 under a "de-radicalisation" drive championed by Saif al-Islam
Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader, mostly for the benefit of audiences in
the West.

Moderate tone

"The tyrant fled and we will be after him," said a victorious Mr Belhaj
following the storming of Bab al-Aziziya earlier this month.

The close co-operation between Mr Belhaj and Libya's interim rebel
leadership - the National Transitional Council (NTC) - has heightened fears
in the West about the possible rise of Islamist fighters within in its

Concerns had already surfaced following the unexplained killing in July of
the rebels' military commander, Abdel Fattah Younes, after he was taken into
custody by his own side for questioning.

Two days after the storming of the compound, US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton called on the NTC to take "a firm stand against violent extremism" -
an apparent reference to Islamist fighters.

But neither arrogance nor vengeance dominated Mr Belhaj's victory speech to
the rebels in Tripoli. Instead, he called on Libyans to safeguard public
property, end their vendettas and build a new Libya.

The moderate tone is generally consistent with what most LIFG leaders have
been saying in the last six months, whether in eastern or western Libya. It
seems their experiences in armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya and Algeria
have forced them to mature politically, re-calculate strategically, and
moderate their behaviour and ideology.

The former "fighting group" has even toned down its name, becoming the
Islamic Movement for Change.

However, enforcing a moderate stance among its rank-and-file members will be
a challenge for the leadership. In today's lawless war zone, which has
placed small- and mid-sized arms in the hands of virtually everyone,
conditions can change significantly and so can loyalties and hierarchies.

But a former mid-ranking LIFG member - who commands around 300 men from the
coastal city of Derna - said the group has no ulterior motives.

"We are not trying to establish an Islamic emirate," said Abdul Hakim
al-Hasadi. "Look around you. do you see any camps or a separate force from
the rest of the fighters?"

The other challenge for the LIFG is to transform itself from a militia to a
political party.

"We were trained as fighters and theologians, not politicians," said another
former member of the group. "So when it comes to democracy, constitution,
and elections, the leaders have got nothing to say."

What now?

Following Col Gaddafi's departure, interactions between the NTC and armed
Islamist organisations can take three trajectories: reintegration, inclusion
or clash.

Reintegration in the military and security forces will depend on their size
and contribution, and of course, the political will and calculations of the
NTC. This trajectory will not only be problematic for the Western partners
of the NTC, but also for the security and intelligence personnel, who will
see former "terrorists" transformed into colleagues.

The experience of South Africa and reintegration of the Africa National
Congress (ANC) fighters comes to mind as a relatively successful case.

The second trajectory is political inclusion, which would also face some
hurdles, such as the need for mid-ranking and grassroots members to
participate in a democratic process, after being indoctrinated for decades
into believing that democracy is inherently anti-Islamic.

But signs of successful jihadist transformation come from neighbouring
Egypt. The Islamic Group, a much larger armed Islamist organisation, has
successfully dismantled its armed wing and formed a politically party,
Construction and Development.

The third scenario is the worst - civil war: Even a small-scale one to oust
Islamists would be as disastrous for Libyans and their neighbours as was the
Algerian civil war in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, this scenario cannot be discounted.

A study published by Columbia University has shown that the probability of a
country relapsing into civil war following a successful armed
anti-dictatorship campaign is 43%. It arrives at this figure after surveying
323 opposition campaigns between 1900 and 2006.

Most of the lucky countries that escaped civil war went through a successful
disarmament, de-mobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process, in parallel
with a serious attempt at democratisation.

'Pawns and puppets'

Libya's NTC, with the support of Nato, has a good chance of avoiding an
Iraq- or Algeria-like scenario in Libya. The pillars of their policies
towards the multiple armed Islamist groups following the end of the conflict
should be rapid disarmament and political inclusiveness.

A wide variety of rewards and inducements should be proffered for
disarmament, and in the event that mediation is necessary, the NTC should
bring in credible scholars and independent sheikhs (local tribal leaders) to
negotiate with the heads of armed groups.

In all cases, the NTC is likely to meet resistance, and its objectives
should then be focused on minimising and de-legitimising resistance.

A mixture of the three trajectories could happen, with most of the armed
groups reintegrating in state bureaucracies or successfully turning to party
politics. The rest could keep fighting the new elite as "Nato pawns" and
"Western puppets".

In neighbouring Algeria and Mali, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is
using these phrases in its propaganda, with the aim of securing a foothold
in Libya. But the propaganda will be challenged by the ones willing to
transform - as in Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

"Our view is starting to change of the West. If we hated the Americans 100%,
today it is less than 50%," says Mr Hasadi, the ex-jihadist.

"They have started to redeem themselves for their past mistakes by helping
us to preserve the blood of our children."

Dr Omar Ashour is the Director of the Middle East Graduate Studies Programme
at the University of Exeter and a visiting fellow at the Brooking Doha
Center. He can be reached at o.ashour@exeter.ac.uk.


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