By Inga Kristina Trauthig
By tracing and explaining the history of the LMB ’s organisational developments, this report examined one way in which the LMB tried to establish itself as a legitimate political actor with regard to Islam in the Libyan political sphere after 2011.
(The full report can be accessed here).
Background: Libya in 2018
Seven years have passed since the fall of Qaddafi, who ruled Libya alongside various alliances for 42 years. Following his overthrow, initiated by local forces and supported by Western military force in 2011, the country has experienced years of turmoil.
The future is uncertain; Libya seems to be at a critical crossroads with various groups competing for power and claiming legitimacy.
• Political authority in Libya is divided between rival parliaments in Tripoli and Tobruk and dispersed between different militias exerting control in parts of the country.
• This climate of uncertainty and division forms the context for this paper, which explores one way in which the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (LMB) tried to establish itself as a legitimate political actor after 2011.
• After decades underground, the LMB arrived on the political stage through popular elections. Due to the intolerance of the Qaddafi regime, the LMB had marginal experience interacting with the masses compared to its counterparts elsewhere.
• From today’s view, the movement seems to have failed to achieve its objective of taking power in the country. It is indisputable that many observers as well as MB members themselves were disappointed by the election results in 2012 and 2014, which revealed the LMB had relatively little support from the Libyan people.
• By tracing and explaining the history of the LMB’s most salient organisational developments, this paper examines the ways in which the LMB tried to establish itself as a legitimate political actor with regard to its Islamic credentials in the Libyan political sphere after 2011.
The fact that Libya is a majority Sunni country with a conservative society did not translate, somewhat paradoxically, into a conservative Sunni movement, such as the MB, faring as well as many had anticipated, derailing the impression that the whole region was “going Islamist” after 2011.
• The LMB today is still haunted by ghosts of the past, such as the decade-long demonisation of the Qaddafi regime, its exiled organisational structure and, connected to that, its impotence in developing a strong social base.
The LMB was quick to blame these factors – exacerbated by their opponents’ fearmongering of a purported Islamist takeover – as responsible for the Justice and Construction Party’s (JCP) poor showing in the 2012 election, glossing over self-inflicted wounds, such as the Islamists’ inability to unite or to convince major parts of the population of their political programme.
• Despite the aforementioned points, the LMB in 2018 established itself as a solid political force that has to be reckoned with in the future. This is mainly due to its shrewd manoeuvring and pragmatic choice of alliances.
• Despite its lacklustre electoral performance, which supposedly vindicates the proponents of post‑Islamism, it is premature to equate the Brotherhood’s electoral setbacks with the end of political Islam in Libya. However, political Islam needs to redefine itself conceptually to stay relevant and the LMB must adapt to a political environment that has been sliding, gradually but steadily, into a battleground for militias in which political institutions constitute simply another means for certain stakeholders to enrich themselves.
• Overall, the LMB exhibits a zero-sum approach to politics rather than bridging divides and pursuing compromises. Of course, like other political forces in Libya the LMB is hostage to military developments in the country, having to operate in a colossally demanding environment: a country painfully fragmented with political forces incapable of controlling the battleground. As a result, the LMB is one of many political forces that was reduced to negligible importance and to struggling with the other political forces for relevance and recognition.
• This paper cannot foresee the future of the LMB or the JCP, but it can draw conclusions based on existing opinions of the LMB in the country, the burdens from the past still influencing the LMB, and recent political schemes that have shaped its image.
• Overall, the LMB exhibited a more hawkish and less compromiseoriented policy approach than its Tunisian counterpart and, while aiming to grow in importance in the Libyan political sphere, cooperated with some of the more radical Islamist groups. Recently, however, it moderated some of its stances by verbally backing the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA).
From a social perspective, it remains to be seen if the LMB will succeed in building up a social network resembling what it created in Egypt over the last decades; in the long-term this could strengthen its presence in the country and help it to mobilise and excel politically.
• Libya is no exception in a region of authoritarian systems that drastically weakened political culture and nurtured a zero-sum approach to politics. Therefore, the LMB must also be seen as an outgrowth of Libya’s conditions before 2011; the political forces to its left and right would probably be judged similarly harshly in a comparison along the same lines.
This does not necessarily suggest the failings of political Islam as much as the tragedy of a region unable to translate its own revolutions into a better, more confident future, leading to the spreading public conviction that Libya would be better off without political parties.
After decades in which political leaders in North Africa fearmongered about the possibility of allowing democracy to operate unfettered, since it might allow Islamists to gain power, the so-called Arab Spring has meant elections have taken place in several countries – among them free and fair elections in Libya in 2012.
Newly established political parties competed in the recently unclenched Libyan political sphere. After 2011, many expected Middle Eastern regimes to be transformed into ones with popular Islamic governance, with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regarded as ideally suited for this metamorphosis.
This paper examines the ways in which the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (LMB) tried to establish itself as a legitimate political actor in the Libyan political sphere after 2011, a political arena void of independent political organisations due to the nature of the Qaddafi regime.
Conceptually, the Justice and Construction Party (JCP) and the LMB will not be analysed separately, since this paper focusses on the political performance of the LMB after 2011 and it was during the following year that the JCP mutated into the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya.
The JCP is the natural point of reference. Although the JCP was theoretically set up as an independent entity from the MB, interviews conducted for this paper demonstrate that the JCP is unanimously perceived as identical with the LMB.
Having spent decades underground, the LMB arrived on the political stage through popular elections. Due to the intolerance of the Qaddafi regime, the LMB had only had marginal experience interacting with the masses compared to its counterparts elsewhere.
The LMB could not boast the same networks or support base, but it still looked set to do well in 2012 at the country’s first democratic elections in decades. However, the election results were disappointing; although Libya is a majority Sunni country with a conservative society, which aligned seamlessly with a conservative Sunni movement such as the MB.
The LMB was not able to garner popular support on a scale it originally hoped. The outcome provided more question marks for analysts attempting to comprehend the Arab Spring: the country that displayed all the features that might suggest an Islamist victory ended up with election results that the so-called liberal parties in Egypt and Tunisia could only dream of.
From today’s view, the movement seemed to have failed to achieve its objective of taking power in the country. It is indisputable that many observers alongside MB members themselves were disappointed by the election results in 2012 and then in 2014, which revealed the LMB had relatively little support from the Libyan people.
Therefore, an analysis of the MB’s attempt to establish itself as a legitimate political actor in Libya should help to explain why it has not achieved the political success for which it hoped.
To sustain this analysis, the paper begins by outlining the history of the MB under Qaddafi, focussing on the key points in this pre 2011 history that are still affecting the MB’s political offshoot up to the present.
Section two examines the LMB’s role during the 2011 revolution and the birth of its political party, again concentrating on the aspects that still influence the LMB.
These two sections portray the idiosyncrasies of the Libyan case of the MB; although the LMB is part of a global organisation, the Libyan context provided particular demands in terms of demographic, tribal and broader societal characteristics.
In section three, the LMB is assessed on its central, defining claim that it is what is here called the “True Bearer of Islam” in Libyan politics.
The analysis shows how the LMB was incapable of conveying a credible stance in this regard and hence was not able to attain the legitimacy it had hoped for as a political actor inside Libya.
Methodologically the paper draws on primary sources from the LMB, such as its election manifesto from 2012, the Facebook account of Mohamed Sowane, leader of the JCP since its formation in 2012, and interviews in the local media with LMB representatives, as well as relevant academic literature and qualitative, semi-structured interviews with Libyan nationals and Libya experts.
This analysis is relevant because, despite the aforementioned points, the LMB in 2018 established itself as a solid political force that has to be reckoned with in the future. This is mainly due to its shrewd manoeuvring and pragmatic choice of alliances.
It remains the only force that has genuine political national reach across Libya’s various regions. Although suffering a blow from the underwhelming election results, the representatives of the Justice and Construction Party are entrenched in the political structures of a divided Libyan system.
In 2018, the JCP is still active in seeking legitimacy among the Libyan people and trying to establish itself in the power quagmire increasingly dominated by such strong men as Khalifa Haftar and the forces of his (mostly) loyal Libyan National Army (LNA).
Despite its lackluster electoral performance, which supposedly vindicates the proponents of post‑Islamism, it is premature to equate the Brotherhood’s electoral setbacks with the end of political Islam in Libya.
However, political Islam needs to redefine itself conceptually to stay relevant and the LMB must adapt to a political environment that has been sliding, gradually but steadily, into a militia battleground in which political institutions constitute another means for certain stakeholders to enrich themselves.
The current political catastrophe that is post‑Qaddafi Libya exhibits a ruling establishment that struggles to assert any authority with the LMB engrained in these calamitous dynamics.
While the Egyptian mothership and the successful Tunisian offshoot have been extensively discussed, the LMB has been insufficiently researched and neglected in the battleground between militias, army, tribes and terrorists that is the current Libyan state.
While Libya is unique in many regards, its trajectory after Qaddafi’s overthrow nonetheless offers a capacious repository for academic and policy lessons with relevance beyond the country itself on diverse phenomena, such as the challenges of governance and the influence of militarised non-state actors.
First, this paper will address the research gap on the MB in Libya by combining a discussion of its more distant and its more recent history (the latter refers to after 2011, when the movement came “out of the shadows”).
Secondly, this paper offers a distinctly Libyan contribution to the debate on how political actors aim to derive legitimacy by building on Islamic credentials.
What becomes clear from this study is that there exists a palpable gap between the LMB’s ambitions, the practical implementation of these ambitions, and their reception by the Libyan people. If these divides are not bridged, then the LMB might tumble into this gorge.
to continue next part with (2 The Muslim Brotherhood in Libya pre-2011)
Inga Kristina Trauthig is a Research Fellow at ICSR and a PhD candidate at the War Studies Department at King’s College London. Her research focusses on the changing Islamist landscape in post-Qaddafi Libya and aims to explore the political influence of dominant Islamist and Salafi groups in the country. Inga is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Member of the Standing Expert Committee Terrorism and Interior Security of the Konrad-Adenauer- Foundation, part of the extended board of Women and International Security in Germany and Fellow of the Atlantic Initiative.