By Wolfram Lacher
The 17th February Revolution has fundamentally reshaped Libya’s political landscape.
Fault Lines of the Revolution
The most significant fault line in the GNC runs neither between the major parties nor between Islamists and non-Islamists per se. Instead, the rifts created by revolution and civil war also define the camps within the GNC.
On one side stand most of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, as well as former members of the exile opposition and representatives of cities and neighbourhoods that were strongholds of armed struggle against the regime during the revolution – such as Misrata and Zawiya, the Berber cities of the Nafusa Mountains and the Souq al-Jum’a and Tajoura districts of Tripoli.
They all take a hard line against those parts of the elite who had come to terms with the Gaddafi regime. On the other side are deputies representing cities or tribes that supported the regime or abstained from joining the revolution, such as large parts of the southern Fezzan region and the cities of Sirte, Bani Walid, Tarhouna and Aziziya. In line with its leaders’ own interests, the National Forces Alliance pursues a moderate line on the question of how comprehensively former regime officials should be excluded from politics and administration.
The divide is also clearly apparent in the decisions of the Integrity Commission: nine of the fifteen members excluded from the GNC came from cities or regions that were on the losing side of the revolution; three others were members of the Alliance, or independent but associated with the Alliance. 20
Owing to Integrity Commission decisions, the Tuareg had no representation in the GNC from September 2012 until this study went to press in May 2013, and both members for the town of Bani Walid had been disbarred by January 2013. Such constituencies were thus unable to exert any influence on cabinet appointments or the debate over the constitutional process.
The revolutionary camp was behind the decision of October 2012 to storm Bani Walid following the death of a revolutionary from Misrata held hostage there. The GNC’s “Decision No. 7” opened the way for a military offensive that ended in the looting and destruction of public institutions, businesses and homes in Bani Walid by militias from Misrata and other revolutionary strongholds. 21
The decision received strong support from deputies from Misrata, Zliten, Zawiya, Souq al-Jum’a and Tajoura – the cities and districts whose brigades then led the offensive against Bani Walid in the guise of Der’ Libya units. Only about two-thirds of GNC members were present; many left the chamber shortly beforehand in order to avoid having to vote. The resolution was accepted with 65 votes in favour, just seven against, and about 55 abstentions. 22
Despite this relatively weak support within the GNC, the military power of the revolutionary camp and the close connections between certain deputies and the revolutionary brigades involved made the operation possible. Salah Badi from Misrata and Mohamed al-Kilani from Zawiya, both leaders of revolutionary brigades as well as GNC members, participated actively in the military offensive.
The GNC spokesman, Omar Ahmidan from Zliten, helped disseminate false reports about the supposed detention of one of Gaddafi’s sons in Bani Walid that were intended to lend legitimacy to the military operation.
“Decision No. 7” and the subsequent offensive underlined the deep rifts running through Libyan society, and through the National Congress. The divide then erupted into the open in the GNC in the debate on the “law on political exclusion” (al-’Azl al-Siyasi).
The Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis and representatives of the revolutionary strongholds demanded sweeping exclusion, while the Alliance and many independents from the south and centre opposed this. The GNC remained deadlocked over the issue between December 2012 and early May 2013, forestalling progress on other major policy issues. 23
When a vote appeared to be close in March 2013, armed protesters surrounded the building where the National Congress was meeting – which was supposed to be kept secret that day – and attempted to push through a vote on the law at gunpoint. 24
Revolutionary hard-liners in the National Congress almost certainly encouraged the intervention, but parliament refused to vote under such conditions. Both within the GNC and in the broader public sphere the controversy over “political exclusion” led to an increasing polarisation along the revolutionary divide. The law was finally adopted on 5 May 2013, in a context of strong pressure from armed groups that had barricaded several ministries to push their demands for “political exclusion”.
Though the result of intense bargaining between the Alliance and other blocs in the GNC, the law’s crucial first article – defining the categories of former officials to be barred from holding positions of responsibility – passed only with a majority of 115 of 157 members who were present.
The Zeidan Government
The Zeidan cabinet’s composition reflects the fragmentation within the GNC. The prime minister was able to win the support of different camps precisely because he has no power base of his own in Congress.
In order to keep the various rival interest groups in check, politically independent figures were appointed to head the so-called “sovereign” ministries: foreign, defence, interior, justice and finance. But otherwise the government serves every clientele. The Alliance and the Muslim Brotherhood each received five ministerial posts, with two each for the cities of Misrata and Zintan. Two ministries went to members of Mohamed Magariaf’s National Front, one of whom can also be regarded as a representative of the Berbers.
With the appointment of former LIFG chief theorist Sami al-Saadi as minister for martyrs’ and missing persons’ affairs, and, after his resignation, his replacement by Ali Qaddour, the Salafi camp is represented in the government, alongside the Sufi Abdessalam Abusaad – although Abusaad resigned shortly after taking office as minister for religious affairs, most likely under Salafi pressure. A leading revolutionary figure was appointed state minister for the injured in the guise of Ramadan Zarmuh, the former head of the Misrata military council.
Zeidan chose a disproportionate number of ministers from the north-east, both to ensure the support of deputies from that region and to placate the extra-parliamentary federalist movement. So the cabinet emerged as a balancing act between various interest groups. The same approach continued in the appointment of the deputy ministers in the following months. The appointment of career army and police officers to the defence and interior ministries was balanced by political appointments of deputy ministers.
Among the three deputy defense ministers, for example, feature former leading LIFG figure Khaled al-Sharif and al-Tuhami Bouzian, a Salafi-Jihadi brigade leader from Misrata. 25
Individual ministers have specific power bases within and outside the GNC, but the government as a whole has no firm majority to depend upon. Combined with the vaguely defined separation of powers between the GNC and the government, this has encouraged the GNC to act as a counterweight to the government as a whole, and seize powers including the right to decide appointments to key positions such as the central bank governor, the army chief of staff, or the general prosecutor.
Parliamentary and Extra-Parliamentary Islamists
The Islamist forces within and outside the GNC deserve special attention for two reasons.
First, this spectrum contains the only political forces that have a truly national agenda and reach, in contrast with the loose alliances of local actors dominating the rest of the political landscape.
Second, Islamists exert strong influence through networks that straddle national and local politics, the security sector and religious institutions. Many of their opponents believe that since the fall of the regime there has been a great Islamist plot to gain control over the government and security apparatus. But such conspiracy theories lack plausibility, for the Islamist spectrum includes a multitude of competing currents and organisations.
The Grand Mufti’s Network and Influence
The most influential figure in the Islamist spectrum, and perhaps in Libyan politics altogether, is the Grand Mufti Sadeq al-Ghariani. He was quick to throw his support behind the uprising, and in February 2012 the National Transitional Council appointed him the first director of the refounded Dar al-Ifta’, the authority responsible for interpreting Islamic law.
The provisions of the decision underline how great Ghariani’s influence already was: he was appointed for life and media discussion of his fatwahs was prohibited. 26
Ghariani’s statements and fatwahs exerted a stabilising influence in the months following the fall of the regime, condemning attacks on Sufi shrines by radical Salafis and killings of officers from Gaddafi’s security organs. 27
Subsequently, however, he played an increasingly divisive role: the day before the elections to the GNC, Ghariani declared that it was un-Islamic to vote for parties that intended to restrict the scope of sharia, in an obvious attack on the Alliance. 28
After the elections he campaigned vigorously for an Islamic banking system, and thus bolstered corresponding initiatives in the GNC. He defended the legitimacy of the military action against Bani Walid in October 2012 and supported calls for a broad ban on former regime officials through the law on “political exclusion”; in April 2013, he went as far as declaring demonstrations in favour of the law to be a religious obligation (fard) for Libyans. 29
Ghariani has also stoked fears of alleged Shiite “infiltration”, pressuring the Ministry of Social Affairs into blocking marriages with non-Libyan Muslims to avert this supposed danger. Ghariani has become increasingly controversial with such positions. Nevertheless, his stance on sharia and the constitution – that the role of sharia as the source of law was not a matter for a referendum – met with little in the way of criticism.
As there is no secular camp in Libya, the constitutional debate is likely to focus mainly on whether sharia should be the sole or predominant source of law.
Ghariani’s networks extend beyond the deputies of the al-Asala movement, who like Ghariani consider themselves moderate Salafis. He maintains close relations with former LIFG leaders, and intervened personally for an autonomous budget for Siddiq Mabrouk, a former LIFG member who served as deputy defence minister until January 2013. 30
The commanders of Mabrouk’s border guards included figures formerly associated with the LIFG. 31
Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib told the GNC in August 2012 that the government and security officials agreed that the border guards needed to be placed under the authority of the chief of staff, but a “higher instance” had objected. 32
This can only have been referring to Ghariani. The border guards were eventually placed under the chief of staff after Mabrouk’s removal in January 2013, but only after Khaled al-Sharif, a former leading LIFG figure who also maintains good relations with the Grand Mufti, was appointed deputy defence minister. Earlier, Ghariani had also criticised demonstrations against the presence of Islamist-leaning brigades in Benghazi.
In short: the Grand Mufti can be clearly located in the Islamist spectrum of the revolutionary camp. A centrist counterpoint to Ghariani is the religious scholar Ali Sallabi, who is associated with the international Muslim Brotherhood – and closely linked to the influential Qatar-based scholar Youssef al-Qaradawi – though not part of Libyan Muslim Brotherhood’s network. After briefly dabbling with the initiative to set up the al-Watan Party with forces straddling the Salafi and non-Islamist spectrum, Sallabi withdrew from party politics. He calls unequivocally for national reconciliation, criticises the attempts at a sweeping exclusion of former officials, and condemned the use of force against Bani Walid. 33
Such positions being unpopular within Islamist currents, Sallabi’s influence has declined since the revolution. 34
While his brother Ismail led a revolutionary brigade in Benghazi, the two brothers’ political views clearly diverge, and no direct connection should be drawn between Ali Sallabi and the Benghazi brigades.
To be contiued
20- Independent members from Bayda, Baten al-Jabal, Bouslim, Hay al-Andalus, Sabha, Tarhouna and Ubari were excluded, along with all the independents from Ghat and Bani Walid, two representatives of local lists from Ubari and Wadi al-Shate’, and two Alliance deputies from Zliten and Bouslim. By March 2013 one excluded member from Bayda had been replaced; all other seats remained vacant.
21- Discussions and observations, Bani Walid, November 2012.
22- Discussions with GNC members, Tripoli, November 2012.
23- “Controversy over Law on Political Exclusion in Libya”,al-Jazeera.net, 17 August 2012, www.aljazeera.net/news/pages/f587e240-8894-42e9-9136-f4ad04831fa8; “After Tough Debate National Congress Agrees Appointment of 19-Member ‘Exclusion’ Committee”, al-Manara, 26 December 2012, tinyurl.com/bsbu388.
24- “National Congress Deputies Detained: Pressure over Law on Political Exclusion ”, Quryna, 6 March 2013, www.qurynanew.com/49660. On 7 March, two days after the incident, an armed group attacked the offices of the al-Asema TV channel, which had taken an explicit stance against sweeping “political exclusion”. The TV station’s owner Jum’a al-Usta (a leading donor to the NFA) and its Executive Director were abducted and later freed.
25- Along with Abdel Hakim Belhadj, Sami al-Saadi, Abdel Wahab Qaid and other LIFG leaders, al-Sharif had spent several years in prison during the Gaddafi era and was released before the revolution, after LIFG leaders had declared their previous fight against the regime to have been based on erroneous religious views. (See Revisions of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, ed. Salman Auda [Cairo, 2010]). After the revolution,al-Sharif set up the “National Guard” which, under a Transitional Council resolution of February 2012, was later placed under the authority of the border guards. According to al-Sharif, the “National Guard” has eight thousand members. Its responsibilities include guarding high-value Gaddafi-era prisoners such as former intelligence chief Abdallah Senoussi and former prime minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi. Several of the brigades belonging to the “National Guard” are led by figures from the Salafi Jihadi spectrum. Bouzian is the leader of the Faruq brigade and a former deputy head of the Misrata Union of Revolutionaries.
26- Law No. 15/2012 of the National Transitional Council “On the Establishment of a Dar al-Ifta’”, Tripoli, 20 February 2012.
27- Hanspeter Mattes, “Libyen nach Qaddafi: Islamistischer Aufschwung und Stärkung des religiösen Sektors”, in Islamische Akteure in Nordafrika, ed. Sigrid Faath (Berlin, 2012).
28- Sadeq al-Ghariani, “Friday Address, Oqba Mosque”,6 July 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=vidyTP5bsIg.
29- Public intervention by Ghariani on 4 April 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYFZNruNUO8.
30- See his address to the first meeting of the Zeidan cabinet on 21 November 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwDjwN6gh1o.
31- These included Abdel Wahab Qaid (see note 14) as the commander of the southern region. The full name of the border guard is “Guard Force for Borders and Vital Facilities” (Haras al-Hudud wal-Mansha’at al-Haiyawia). They include units that are deployed around oil and gas facilities.
32- Questioning of Abdel Rahim al-Kib by the National Congress, Tripoli, 24 August 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=im46xFhV-sI.
33- Discussion with Ali Sallabi, Tripoli, June 2012; “After Events in Bani Walid: Ali Sallabi Calls on Libyans to Press Government to Implement Transitional Justice”, Quryna, 13 October 2012, www.qurynanew.com/43240; “Sallabi to Quds Press: Ideas of Victors and Vanquished Cannot Be Basis for Constitution and Reconciliation”, al-Manara, 17 November 2012,tinyurl.com/cqnpm6r.
34- Sallabi is also widely seen as all too close to Qatar, and in Salafi Jihadi quarters is criticised for his role in mediating on behalf of Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi in connection with the LIFG’s ideological recantation.