Libya – Ali al-Salabi and the Re-Emerging Muslim Brotherhood

By J. Millard Burr
Monday, October 13th, 2014 @ 12:42AM

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Left: Ali Muhammad al-Salabi

“Ansar al Sharia (‘Supporters of Islamic Law’), the al-Qaida-linked militia believed to have led the Benghazi consulate assault in September, is a spinoff of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade.  Reports remind us of ties among February 17 Martyrs Brigade leadership, the Muslim Brotherhood and the web of jihad-poison spun by Qatar’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Libya’s Ali al-Salabi -the latter having been tapped by the Qatari dictatorship to distribute $2 billion to Libyan ‘rebels.'”  -Diana West, “Administration Welcomed Wolves Into The Sheepfold,” Townhall.com, 12 October 2012 

Meet Ali al-Salabi

Ali Muhammad al-Salabi is a Libyan expatriate, noted religious scholar and Islamist politician who was born in Benghazi in 1963. The son of a prominent banker, like his father he joinrd the international Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimun) at an early age.  As a result of his anti-Qaddafi activity, in the nineteen eighties the youthful Salabi spent eight years in Muammar Qaddafi’s Abu Salim prison-a horrific maximum security site located in Tripoli.  After his release he earned a bachelor’s degree at the Islamic University of Medina, Saudi Arabia, and graduated first in his class. He next completed his master’s, and then his doctorate degree in 1999 at Omdurman Islamic University in Sudan.

Subsequently, Salabi lived for a time in Yemen before settling in exile in Qatar.  Already a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he was welcomed both by the ruling al Thani family, and by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, for decades the Ikhwan’s spiritual head.

Dr. al-Salabi (the title he usually assumes) is an acknowledged expert on the history of early Muslim leaders.  Among his books include a three-volume history of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and works on Abu Bakr al Siddiq, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, and Usman Ibn Affan.  Salabi is also an expert on the hadith (sayings) of the Prophet, and it is written that his efforts peel away “the centuries-old layer of fabrications and distortions through which hostile elements both in the Muslim world and beyond sought to conceal the truth.”  It is claimed his efforts involve, “The true battle for hearts and minds is that which is raging in the Muslim world today, where many vested interests are seeking to distort the very self-image of the Muslims.”

Throughout the Muslim World Salabi is known to many Libyans through his appearances on al-Jazeera, the Qatari pan-Arab television station.  In his presentations he offers opinions similar to those of another known television figure, the noted Ikhwan cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  Although Salabi has long maintained that he is “independent and not part of any organization,” nothing could be further from the truth.  He likes to compare himself to Ikhwan powerhouses like Rachid Ghannouchi of Tunisia’s En Nahdah movement and the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, both of whom have claimed to support, “a modern, pluralist democratic system.

Ironically, although he was jailed for criticizing the Qaddafi regime, after moving to Doha Salabi eventually became involved with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi-the Libyan dictator’s son-in what was a Qatar-sponsored effort to release Islamist prisoners from Libyan prisons. Beginning in 2006, Qaddafi’s son and political adviser began negotiating what was expected to effect reconciliation with Libya’s Islamists. More than one hundred Ikhwan members were released in 2006, and by 2008 hundreds of members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group had also been freed.  Assisting in the process was Abdelhakim Belhadj, the former Afghan-Arab who himself had served time in prison.

Libya’s Arab Afghans 

Given his time spent in jail, Salabi was unable to join the steam of Libyan fighters who made their way to Afghanistan to join the mujahideen in their battle against the Soviet Army.  In the mid-nineteen eighties Libyan mujahideen returning from the war in Afghanistan initiated their own Jihad.  Some Libyan mujahideen who fought in Afghanistan, leaders like Abdelhakim Belhadj and Abu Anas al-Libi, played an important role in the growth of al Qaeda. Al-Libi achieved prominence in Osama Bin Laden’s inner circle, while Belhadj followed the al-Qaeda leader when he moved his operation from the Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996.

As he had done before on numerous occasions, Qaddafi made every effort to crush the incipient Islamist insurgency involving Afghan-Arabs.  In 1990 the surviving remnant founded the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).  In fact it fought little, but it did continue to organize.  Some LIFG members, including Belhadj, moved to the Sudan where political leader Hasan al-Turabi and Saudi mujahid bin Laden welcomed their presence. After spending some time in Afghanistan Belhadj return to the Maghreb and figure prominently in the revolt that ultimately ousted Qaddafi in 2011.

The Salabi-Belhadj Connection 

For more than two decades Salabi has remained a close ally of Abdulhakim Belhadj.  He was sent to Libya and remained in prison until released in an amnesty arranged by Saif al-Islam Qaddafi in 2010. Ostensibly, those released agreed to renounce violence.

It was generally assumed that Belhadj worked behind the scenes during the early months of the revolt against Qaddafi rule.  However, it is also possible that he used one of his many aliases, Abdelhakim al-Hasidi, while operating with anti-Qaddafi forces fighting in Derna in March 2011. Reportedly, among those fighting alongside Belhadj was Abu Sufian bin Qumu, bin -Laden’s chauffeur. Qumu had spent five years in Guantanamo prison after being captured in Pakistan. He was released even though his release at one time was considered “high risk.”

Another unit leader was one Barrani, a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.  As for the LIFG and its relationship to al -Qaeda, the UN Security Council designated the LIFG as an al Qaeda affiliate shortly after the 9/11 attack.  The LIFG probably entered into a direct alliance with al Qaeda prior to 9/11 and at a time when Belhadj was with bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Salabi was undoubtedly the better known when the rebels began their battle with Qaddafi.  Belhadj only emerged as a prominent figure after his rebel forces seized control of Qaddafi’s Bab al-Azizia palace in Tripoli in August 2011.  In the months that followed, Belhadj downplayed his Islamist credentials while all the while building his military (and political) base. He was certainly a major militia figure when, on 20 October 2011, Sirte, the last urban stronghold, was captured and Muammar Qaddafi was killed.

As for Salabi, at the onset of civil war in Libya he was using the auspices of Qatar to enter into private negotiations with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the dictator’s most prominent son.  Their effort to end his father’s rule by peaceful means was shortly overtaken by events on the ground.  A modus vivendi could not be achieved and in the months that followed thousands of lives were lost as Saif al-Islam Qaddafi continued negotiation with Salabi and the LIFG in an effort to end the fighting in Libya.  Whether Salabi negotiated in good faith is questionable; he later admitted to France’s AFP that all the while his patrons in Qatar had played an important role in the financing and arming of the rebels. (See Abbes Zineb, AFP,15 September 2011.)

By the time the so-called Arab Spring had evolved into a fulsome effort to eliminate Qaddafi’s rule, Qatar was the first Arab country to recognize the rebel National Transitional Council as Libya’s legitimate governing authority.  Qatari jets saw action over Libya, and hundreds of Qatari military were sent to train rebels, mobilize communications, and help plan their attacks.  From his Doha base in Qatar, Salabi was reported to have frequently traveled to Benghazi to visit opposition leaders.  He was reported to have personally served as intermediary in the shipment of arms purchased by Qatar and transported to Libya.

Salabi himself was already associated with Abdelhakim Belhadj and with the Benghazi-based February 17 Martyrs Brigade.  Like most of the Islamist brigades that fought Qaddafi the February 17 was loaded with jihadists. It certainly benefited from the fact that its commander was Ismail al-Salabi, brother of Ali al-Salabi.  Like his brother, Ismail had the right Islamist credentials.  In 1997 he had been jailed by the Qaddafi regime. During his six years in prison the young man who had once been a hell-raiser had become very religious.  He also formed a friendship with the two brothers of Abdelhakim Belhadj.  Following his release he met Belhadj, and the two have been close ever since.

The Post-Qaddafi Era  

With Qaddafi’s demise, Salabi was at the forefront of opposition to the leadership of Mahmoud Jibril, the University of Pittsburgh-educated and Western-backed liberal who was seeking to form a government of national unity.  Jibril had served as Qaddafi’s director of planning until the start of the Libyan uprising in February 2011, after which he joined the rebels.  Then he was named to head the nascent National Transitional Council (NTC).

In mid-October, only days after the militias had driven Qaddafi from power, rebel commanders met in Tripoli in an effort at unification.  The result was that the TNC was confronted by the emergence of a politico-military movement.  In effect, Abdelhakim Belhadj, whose militia had been instrumental in the capture of Qaddafi’s Tripoli nexus, had derailed the gathering.  Apparently it was his history as a mujahid that allowed Belhadj to take charge of events-which was no small achievement as there were about a dozen rebel leaders present who had some military clout. He was reconfirmed the Emir of the insurgent Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and shortly thereafter was named head of the Tripoli Military Council (TMC). Observers wondered what was next and recalled the warning that Qaddafi had issued on many occasions that the Islamists were never to be trusted.

As the foreign powers that ensured the successful overthrow of the Libyan leader lost interest in Libya, the specter of an Islamist takeover was fast becoming a reality. On October 31, NATO’s mission in Libya officially ended, and Qatar assumed the predominant role in Libyan affairs.

In articles that opened another mysterious pathway in the confusing Libyan labyrinth, Abdelhakim Belhadj had to fend off personal attacks that put into question his loyalty to the Islamist cause.  Media reports surfaced that after 9/11/2001 Belhadj had been captured in Pakistan, turned over to the British who then held him at a secret prison at Diego Garcia.  He was then returned to Libya where he was imprisoned.  He claims Qaddafi tortured him before he was released in the prisoner release engineered by Qatar and Saif al-Islam Qaddafi.  In what may well have been a disinformation effort to make Libyans question Belhadj’s bona fides, in September 2011 the Mail Online claimed that Belhadj had actually been helping the CIA in its hunt for bin Laden.  And, mirabile dictu, the Libyan mujahid could likely be in line for a reward if bin Laden were ever captured or killed. While there may have been some or a great deal of truth to the article, if it was meant to harm Belhadj, it did not.

Salabi Plays Politics 

In September Salabi set the stage for the coming war of the warlords when in an interview for AFP he accused Mahmoud Jibril, the so-called interim prime minister and leader of the National Transitional Council, of wanting to impose yet another totalitarian government.  Salabi accused Jibril and his followers of being “extreme secularists,” and Libya’s “tyrants” in-waiting.  Salabi warned that “we” were not about to revive the era of the Qaddafi regime.  The “we” in question obviously referred to his alliance with Abdelhakim Belhadj, a man who was still “suspected” of having ties to al Qaeda but as chief of the Tripoli Military Council was in a position to make Jibril’s life miserable.

Jibril’s attempt to form a government of national union involving representatives of all Libyan regions was a worthy endeavor.  However, faced with opposition from Salabi, Belhadj and other militias, he had little chance to succeed.  On 3 October, Jibril had announced that he would resign from government once the country had been “liberated”.  And once Sirte was taken and Qaddafi was killed, he kept his promise.  He resigned on 23 October and was succeeded by Abdurrahim el-Keib.

 

Jibril had hoped that his resignation as interim prime minister would help heal the growing rift that had opened between the ruling National Transitional Council and the militias. To his enemies it mattered not that he himself was an Islamist of sorts and had announced that the Sharia would be “the basic source of legislation.”  When questioned Salabi freely admitted that he had opposed the interim prime minister’s “professional capabilities and performance,” but not his religious views.  (Reuters reporting, 10 October 2011.)  Ironically, as Salabi continued his campaign to oust Jibril, the wily Belhadj had remained silent.

 

The following month Salabi announced the formation of the National Gathering for Freedom, Justice and Development (NGFJD), which would take part in Libya’s forthcoming elections.  While his opponents argued that the party was financed by Qatar, Salabi called his movement a “moderate” political party.  Leaving no doubt of its Ikhwan bona fides, he added that the Gathering would emulate “Turkish-style moderation.”  Indeed, the NGFJD was based on principles similar to those employed by Erdogan and his Muslim Brothers in Turkey, by Ghannouchi and Islamists in Tunisia, and by Morsi and his soon-to-fail Ikhwan movement in Egypt. Salabi called for the elimination of Qaddafi-era laws banning polygamy.  And he opposed Jibril”s effort to impose Western finance and ban Islamic banking.

 

The Gathering had some support in Benghazi, but it was received less enthusiastically in Tripoli where “secular” elements argued that Salabi was a puppet of both Turkey and Qatar.  In short order demonstrations were held in Tripoli that opposed NGFJD efforts to impose Sharia law in Libya.  In time the NGFJD had little success in its competition with Jibril’s own National Forces Alliance, likewise one of the most important new political movements.  While Salabi denied reports that he would run for president, he did confirm his “long-predicted move into secular politics.”

 

As expected, the Gathering supported a Libyan constitution based on Sharia law.

 

Meanwhile, Belhadj managed the transition from leader of the Tripoli Military Council to politician when in a surprise move he announced he had joined Salabi’s NGFJD.  Because Belhadj was then “considered a leading candidate to become Libya’s new Minister of Defense” (al-Arabiya, 18 November 2011), analysts assumed that Qatar had chosen him to take charge of the Islamist/Salafist military presence in Libya.  It was thought by some that Belhadj’s presence in the NGFJD would “serve to radicalize” the party.  Others believed it was simply a Muslim Brother joining Salabi’s Ikhwan movement.  Still others argued that Belhadj would soon assume the NGFJD leadership.

 

By year’s end, the fissiparous Transitional National Council (TNC) was hamstrung. The secular National Front for the Salvation of Libya, which had appeared to be the strongest political movement in Libya, was in decline.

 

Established in 1981, its membership opposed Qaddafi from bases in exile.  It produced newspapers and magazines, broadcasts to Libya, and was said to have organized the failed 1984 attack on the Bab al-Azizia barracks. However, its strength was ephemeral.  In the end it was an organization that gathered its strength from Libyan expatriates and their Western allies but could evoke little enthusiasm in Libya itself.  Its leaders certainly had none of the military and political power at their command that Belhadj commanded.

The Libyan Muslim Brotherhood Returns 

 

After Qaddafi’s death the Ikhwan-dominated Libyan Islamic Group took charge of a Brotherhood chapter that had not been able to function legally since Qaddafi came to power.  Formerly based in Geneva and led by Suleiman Abdelkadir, its emergence was hardly noted.  Nonetheless, several hundred Ikhwan attended its first conference held in Benghazi in mid-November 2011.  In what was a common theme of Ikhwan policy that emerged during the Arab Spring, Abdelkadir called for Libyan factions to eschew totalitarian tendencies and unite to rebuild the nation. “All together, we want to build a civil society that uses moderate Islam in its daily life.”

 

The conference included speeches by members of Tunisia’s Islamist En Nahda Party and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.  In attendance were the newly named ministers of the Libyan Transitional National Council, including Defense Minister Jalal al-Degheili and Islamic Affairs Minister Salam al-Shaykhli.

 

The Ikhwan belief that with Qaddafi gone it was possible to build a new nation was perhaps easier to accomplish than elsewhere in the Maghreb: more than 90 percent of Libyans are Sunni Muslims, there exists an underpinning of Sufi tradition, and most are influenced by the moderate Maliki school of jurisprudence.

 

While it was true that a dangerous tribalism was omnipresent, and Libya’s major territorial divisions of Cyrenaica (Benghazi) and Tripoli enhanced that tribalism, the Ikhwan felt it was still possible to unite the tribes in support of a single Islamist state.

 

As for the Ikhwan’s Libyan Islamic Group (LIG), it had provided various social services during the war with Qaddafi. It had distributed food and opened hospitals.  And once Qaddafi was gone it promised it would soon create its own political party.  To that end, and to gain wide acceptance, it held meetings where women were allowed to attend and even to speak.

 

Within a year observers noted that the LIG official membership had doubled and its proselytizing in the streets continued to add adherents.  And in a nation where the central government was rarely present, it used the vast experience of the international Ikhwan (and almost certainly its funding) to provide humanitarian and economic assistance to those in need.

 

Since the holding of its first conference in Libya the Muslim Brotherhood has moved from the shadows and began to take a direct part in the political process.  In Tripoli on 3 March 2012 the Ikhwan announced the creation of the Justice and Development Party (JDP or Hizb Al-Adala Wal-Bina).  Salabi, still the exile in Qatar, took no official role in it, and Mohamed Sowan of Misrata, a hotelier and former political prisoner, was named to lead the JDP.  It is generally conceded that party policies tracked the ideas expressed by Salabi and the international Muslim Brotherhood.

 

In a surprising development in the national elections held in July 2012 the JDP finished second.  And, given the political infighting that followed that event, the Ikhwan continued to attract members including many “secular” citizens who had previously taken no interest in politics.

 

The TNC, a rebel organization that had been granted political power since the Libyan civil war began, had provided its oversight in the election of a 200 member General National Congress.  It was expected that after this election the General National Congress would immediately begin the drafting of a national constitution and prepare for parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for 2013.

Post-2012 Election Developments

Prior to the July 2012 election Salabi’s National Gathering for Freedom, Justice and Development was given a name change.  The rather clumsy NGFJD assumed the simplified title al-Watan (the Homeland).

 

Led by Salabi, al-Watan counted among its supporters Abdelhakim Belhadj, Mahmoud Hamza and Ali Zeidan.  The inclusion of formerly exiled Zeidan, a Geneva-based lawyer, was a surprise. He formed and led the National Party for Development and Welfare, and in October 2012 he was named Prime Minister of the State of Libya. He would serve as such until March 2014.

 

At the heart of the al-Watan platform was the demand to base a new constitution on the Sharia.  However, it had none of the success of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Libyan Islamic Group, and al-Watan won no seats in the 2012 Libyan General National Congress election.

 

Ironically, Jibril, Salabi’s nemesis and the leader of the newly created union of National Forces Alliance, ran stronger than all other parties, including the LIG.  Declaring that his party supported both democracy and the Sharia, Jibril ran for prime minister and was only defeated in the second round of voting.

 

In the months that followed the continued internecine warfare slowed the political process to a crawl.  And while the liberals held on to what they could, the Islamist militias were responsible for causing trouble in every region.  Thus, the country continued its disintegration and parliamentary elections that might have helped end the squabbling would not be held until the Libyan election commission announced in May 2014 that elections would be held in late June.

Warlords  at War    

As Libya descended into chaos, Mahmoud Jibril had declared angrily that Washington had allowed Qatar to arm the various “militias” opposed to his leadership.  While that was true, as early as April 2011 President Obama had complained to the emir of Qatar “that his country was not coordinating its actions in Libya with the United States.”  And even before the assassination of U.S. Ambassador Stevens at the Benghazi compound on the night of 11 September 2012, there was the knowledge prevalent within United States national security elements that its Libyan policy needed reevaluation.

 

Benghazi was an especially troubling location, and a series of events had left the US “consulate” virtually isolated in that city.  Why the security of the Benghazi “consulate” was contracted out to the February 17 Martyrs Brigade was utterly mystifying especially given the checkered history of Belhadj.

 

Belhadj had resigned as leader of the Tripoli Military Council in May 2012, following which he began a campaign to win power for the al-Watan, which had been created that month.  Still, he retained his interest in February 17, and there was speculation that the first bomb attack on the US “consulate” building in Benghazi in June 2012 was an act of revenge carried out at the direction of Abdelhakim Belhadj himself.  The bombing had occurred shortly after the death of his friend and al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi.  In Pakistan a US drone strike had killed the Libyan-born cleric and senior al-Qaeda operative.

 

The June bomb damage had yet to be repaired when on 11 September an attack on the US compound in Benghazi was carried out by Ansar al-Sharia-a jihadist movement tied to al Qaeda-and assisted (at the least in its passive response) by the compound’s guards who were members of the 17 February Martyrs Brigade. The Brigade, for still inexplicable reasons and despite many complaints, remained at work at the compound where Ambassador Stevens was murdered. (Incredibly, it was not until 26 September 2014 that the UN Security Council was urged by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to designate Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist organization.  (Fabius aptly described Libya as a “terrorist powder-keg.”)

 

As the year 2012 came to an end Washington was reportedly worried (as it should have been) about the consequences of its “hidden hand” in helping arm Libyan militants.” (See: Risen, Mazzetti and Schmidt, “U.S.-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands,” The New York Times, 5 December 2012.)   While the weapons that Qatar paid for helped overthrow Qaddafi, in the aftermath of the war they had served as a destabilizing factor as a plethora of Libyan warlords sought to carve out their own slice of Libyan territory, and likely were employed in the attack on American interests in Benghazi on 9/11/2012.

 

Equally inexplicable, despite the attack on the Benghazi compound, which tangentially implicated Belhadj, the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was “now considered a moderate politician in Libya.” Why Belhadj received such a whitewashing is a mystery yet to be solved.  It may have much to do with President Obama’s obvious affection for the international Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood Conference

 

An indication that the Islamists were gaining strength, not only in Benghazi but in western Libya as well was discussed at length at the convening of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) in Doha, Qatar in December 2012.

 

Called the Muslim World’s most influential non-governmental organization, from its beginning the IUMS has served as an Ikhwan creation, and the meeting was chaired by IUMS general secretary Sheikh al-Qaradawi, the noted Muslim Brother.  Among the 37 trustees present were Rashid al-Ghannouchi of the Tunisian ruling Nahda Party, Mauritanian minister Abdallah Bin Bayyah, and Sudanese and Indonesian intellectuals. (The Milli Gazette, 1-15 January 2013, p. 13.)

 

In his keynote address IUMS President al-Qaradawi stressed that the organization, “stood firmly behind the revolutions in the Arab countries known as ‘Arab Spring,'” and would continue to do so.

Ali al-Salabi and Libyan scholar Sheikh Salim Al-Shaikhi presented a detailed evaluation of the situation in Libya.  They noted the difficulty encountered in trying to absorb some 70,000 rebels into the new Libyan body politic.  It was admitted that certain liberal and secular forces opposed the Islamists.  And it was argued that the dogmatic Salafists (the most radical of the Islamists) had learned nothing from the Tunisian example and the difficulty of creating an Islamist state in a formerly secular society. The meeting concluded with the IUMS offering a resolution in support of its Libyan members.

The Rebel Re-Organization  

Fast forward to 2014.  In April, Belhadj, leader of the al-Watan, warned his enemies, Western, domestic and Egyptian: “We refuse the interference of any international side that imposes guardianship or agendas on us.”  He warned that “his party” would use their weapons if required to “protect the February revolution.”

 

Belhaj was in favor of ending the General National Conference and holding direct elections to seat a new parliament.  Continuing to adopt the cloak of a reasonable man, he condemned the “attempts to revive dictatorship, inciting violence and [the use of] force by certain sides, who are trying to forcefully impose their political agenda.”

 

At least in the case of Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, Belhadj’s words landed on deaf ears.  Operating in the name of the Libyan government-an obvious impossibility as it was dominated by Islamists-he launched “Operation Dignity” in mid-May.  The General planned to eliminate the various Islamist militias once and for all.  However, after a series of airstrikes on the rebel forces operating in Tripoli, his plan had at least one unintended consequence: The various Islamist militias finally agreed to unite. Haftar’s campaign had posed a very real threat, but it was soon reported that the rebels had received “the encouragement from the Qatari-Turkish axis.”  With that bird in the hand, the militias initiated on 13 July a counter-operation, Fajr Libia (Libyan Dawn).

 

The Fajr Libia front absorbed numerous important armed Islamist factions including: The Libyan Shield Militia (Misrata, Benghazi, Khoms, Tripoli), an Ikwan ally; The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, also allied with the Ikhwan; Tripoli Brigade (Tripoli, western Libya), allied with Abdul Hakim Belhadj head of al-Watan party; and Allies’ Front (Benghazi), another Islamist militia.

 

Fajr Libia was also joined by The Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, which itself was founded just a week after Fajr Libia was born.  The Council included Ansar al-Sharia, the largest jihadist force which included Libyans and thousands of foreign fighters; Libya Shield 1, a militia tied to the Ikhwan and allied with Ansar al-Sharia; The February 17 Martyrs Battalion, affiliated with the Ikhwan, and the Rafallah Sahati Brigade, allied with Ansar al-Sharia and led by Ismail al-Salabi, brother of Ikhwan political figure Ali al-Salabi.

 

While General Haftar had his moment at state center, on 23 August Fajr Libia announced their seizure of Tripoli’s battle-scarred and unusable international airport. It followed a series of bloody battles with fighters from the Zintan tribes and their allies, and the Qaaqaa and Sawaq brigades supporting Haftar. Following that event, the Libyan parliament (such as it was) labeled Fajr Libia, Ansar al-Sharia, and the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries as terrorist entities.

 

During the battle, unidentified planes carried out airstrikes on the rebel forces. They did significant damage, and the Fajr Libia claimed that the strikes were carried out by planes from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

 

The ineffectual Libyan parliament, now seated in Tobruk a thousand miles east of Tripoli, replied that, “The groups acting under the names of Fajr Libia and Ansar al-Sharia are terrorist groups and outlaws that are rising up against the legitimate powers.”  It stated that Fajr Libia and Ansar al-Sharia (which controlled about 80 percent of Benghazi city) “are a legitimate target of the national army, which we strongly support in its war to force them to halt their killings and hand over their arms.”

 

When the Fajr Libia overran Tripoli international airport there appeared to be no hope for an early conclusion to the internecine warfare.  And there matters stand.  No Libyan region, city or town is safe from the militias, and attacks are occurring everywhere and in every region.  Libya is primed to follow the path similar to that blazed by Somalia.

Salabi at Work 

 

Salabi seemed to be up to mischief when, on September 16, 2014, the Libya Herald reported that the cleric-a man the blog implied was the ideological brains and real head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya-was holding talks in N’Djamena with Chadian President Idriss Déby.  Also in attendance was senior Muslim Brother Nizar Kawan, a member of the Libya General National Congress and a member of the Ikhwan’s political wing.

 

It was posited by some analysts that the visit was an effort by Libya Dawn to gather international and regional support ahead of the Madrid conference on Libya that Sudan and Chad would attend.  In contrast, realists were sure that Salabi was out to obtain Deby’s agreement to continue illicit arms shipments from the Sudan that would pass through Chad airspace on its way to southern Libya.

 

Sudan, ruled by an Islamist military cabal whose government was peopled by many Muslim Brothers, had already been visited by Ikhwan on numerous occasions.  Despite the fact that both countries had publicly urged the disarmament of Libyan militias, privately no effort was undertaken to stop the shipment of Sudanese arms noted as early as 2012.  There were a number of reports that mujahideen foreigners located at Sudanese bases in the Darfur were involved in the transport of arms to Sebha in southern Libya.

 

Salabi and his allies must now be careful. In Egypt, where president al-Sisi is known to hate not only the Muslim Brotherhood but most Libyans as well. The General has stated he will only deal with Libya’s elected representatives.  He added that Egypt will fully collaborate with Libya on security issues but warned, “Egypt’s security was Libya’s security… and Libya’s security was likewise Egypt’s.” (Egyptian media, 9 October 2014)  It is generally acknowledged that

Sisi is providing direct assistance to General Hafter.

 

As for the role Salabi will play, Ryan Mauro provided an apt comment shortly after Qaddafi was killed. He noted that, “In keeping with Brotherhood strategy, Salabi portrays himself as a harmless moderate. [However] a former member of the Tripoli Municipal Governing Council said, ‘He is just hiding his intentions. He says one thing to the BBC and another to Al-Jazeera.  If you believe him, then you don’t know the Muslim Brothers.'”

 

Certainly, more chapters on Salabi, Belhadj and the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and their various allies and enemies remain to be written.

* J. Millard Burr is a Senior Fellow at the American Center for Democracy.  

 

 

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