By Lisa Watanabe
This study looks at several types of key Islamist actors. Among the political Islamists, it examines mainstream Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, who have gone the furthest in terms of accepting democratic norms and principles, and are the most pragmatic with regards to the application of sharia law.
National Vectors of Influence
Due to successive regime crackdowns against the movement, the Muslim Brotherhood was unable to build up a broad support base during much of the Qaddafi era.
It, therefore, set about doing so throughout the uprising and early transitional period in order to boost its relevance in Libya.
In 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood established a charitable organization called Nida Al-Khayr.
The latter organized the delivery of aid from the Gulf in coordination with a number of charitable organizations on the ground in Libya. It became a key vector for creating a broader support base within Libyan society.
The linkages it formed with local charities also helped to increase the movement’s relevance in the country. The Muslim Brotherhood also created a number of media outlets, including Sabil Rahid, Shabab Libya and Libya Lion in order to diffuse its message to the general public.
When the NTC became Libya’s transitional governing body, the movement was able to exert considerable influence within it.
Approximately, one fifth of NTC seats were held by Muslim Brotherhood members, with several members holding cabinet seats under its executive committees, which functioned like cabinets, first under the leadership of Mahmoud Jibril and then under that of Abdul Raheem Al-Keib.
These individuals included Abdullah Shamia, a former university professor at Benghazi University, who was imprisoned under Qaddafi and appointed economy minister, as well as Salim Al-Shaykhi, who was exiled in Britain and held the post of minister of religious affairs.
Their representation in the NTC provided the Muslim Brotherhood with means of influencing developments in ways that would help to consolidate the movement’s traction in Libya’s emerging public institutions, particularly those related to security.
The Brotherhood used its presence in the NTC to push hard for the creation of parallel security structures through which it could incorporate Brotherhood-linked brigades into the country’s security institutions.
Abderrezak Al-Aradi, a leading Brotherhood and NTC member, helped to create the Supreme Security Committee (SSC), originally conceived as a parallel police force comprised of members of brigades, whose mandate was initially restricted to Tripoli and then later expanded to other cities.
The SSC was nominally under the authority of the Interior Ministry, where Brotherhood member Omar Al-Khadrawi, was deputy interior minister. Its command structure also included Muslim Brotherhood members, such as Fawzi Wanis Al-Qaddafi, deputy head of the Benghazi SSC.
Another parallel security structure that was set up under the NTC was the Libya Shield, conceived as a reserve army. It incorporated powerful brigades, many of which were close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood-allied Misratan brigades formed the backbone of the Central Shield Force and commanded the Western Libyan Shield Force.
The Libya Shield Force in the East incorporated elements of the 17th February Martyrs Brigade, the Raffalah Al-Sahati Brigade, both of which have strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
During this period, the Muslim Brotherhood also worked to increase its influence in local councils that had been set up to govern liberated cities during uprising.
The movement came to dominate the Tripoli Military Council (TMC), a grouping of brigades that captured Tripoli from pro-Qaddafi forces, and the Benghazi Local Council. It also had sizable influence in the Misrata Local Council.
The creation of the Dar Al-Ifta (now closed down), the religious authority responsible for interpreting Islamic law, during this time also boosted the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence. Prominent cleric and head of this body, Sadiq Al-Ghariani, is also reported to have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Although the JCP did not win a plurality in the 2012 parliamentary elections, it, nevertheless, held five cabinet positions in the GNC’s first government under Ali Zeidan, including those for oil, electricity, housing, economy and sport, as well as the post of deputy prime minister.
In January 2014, these ministers resigned from the government in an effort to weaken Zeidan, who was an NFA ally.
After having successfully forced his departure, the JCP eventually found a more accommodating prime minister in Ahmed Maiteg, a Muslim Brotherhood ally, who was appointed in May 2014.
The party was not only able to wield influence in Ahmed Maiteg’s government, but was also able to dominate the GNC as a result of the alliances it built with independents, which proved more cohesive than those of the non-Islamists in the GNC, giving the JCP even greater sway in the governing body.
In May 2013, the JCP and its allies were able to push through the Political Isolation Law that banned Qaddafi era officials from participating in politics for 10 years.
This legislation weakened its opponent, the nationalist-leaning National Forces Alliance (NFA), by forcing a number of the latter’s deputies to resign.
When the GNC’s mandate ended in mid-2014 and new elections were held to elect its successor, the House of Representatives (HoR), the JCP won even fewer seats than in 2012. Fearing a backlash against Islamists, the JCP and its allies, refused to cede power to the HoR and continued to hold sessions in the GNC.
In the context of the civil war that followed, brigades that had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and JCP politicians, sided with the GNC.
These brigades including those from Misrata that formed the bulk of the Libya Shield forces, and Libya Shield East as part of an umbrella group called the BRSC, which also comprised the Muslim Brotherhood linked 17th of February Martyrs Brigade and the Raffalah Al-Sahati brigade.
The LROR, which was created in 2013 by the GNC to perform law and order functions in Tripoli and later in Benghazi, again close to the Brotherhood, also joined the Libya Dawn coalition.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood has since lost a great deal of influence, the UN political process that led to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) has, nevertheless, provided it with a means of continued influence in several governing bodies established under the Agreement.
The High State Council, which acts as an advisory body to the GNA, comprises some JCP politicians, given that it is made up of a pool of politicians that were elected to the GNC in 2012. The new president of the High State Council, Khlaid Al-Mishri, is also a JCP member.
HoR politicians are, however, uneasy about Islamist influence in the High State Council, which has led to discussions about its composition, which could have future implications.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the JCP currently have allies within the GNA’s Presidency Council (PC), including Ahmed Maitig, who serves as vice president of the PC, and Abdessalam Kajman, who is a member of the PC. However, overcoming the current deadlock in the UN political process is likely to lead to modifications to the LPA.
This is likely to lead to a reduction in the number of members in the PC from nine to three, which, in turn, is likely to mean that in the future there will be fewer members within it whose agendas might overlap with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood does not control any brigades as such, its influence may also be boosted by its connections to brigades that have clout with the GNA. This is particularly the case with regards to Misratan brigades that formed most of the Libya Shield forces.
While these brigades may not contain a high number of Muslim Brotherhood members, they are likely to be sympathetic to the movement due to their alliance with it in the Libya Dawn coalition.
They have since fought under the banner of the GNA to drive Islamic State (IS) forces out of the city of Sirte in 2016 and are still loyal to the GNA.
While the structure of future security forces in Libya remains to be defined, it is possible that these brigades could be integrated into a future unified Libyan army, given their importance and as a means of incentivizing them to disband. Should this occur, it could provide the Muslim Brotherhood with support from within Libya’s future security structures.
In Tripoli, the Muslim Brotherhood also has traction through its ties to the TMC. In the East, its links to the BRSC give it some influence on the ground, even though the BRSC has been largely decimated.
International Vectors of Influence
The JCP’s international profile has benefited from positive coverage on Al-Jazeera. Within the context of the civil war, so too have brigades with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the former Libya Shield forces and the LROR.
Support for the UN-backed GNA, which is backed by the majority of the international community, has enabled it to maintain its political relevance internationally.
Its associates in the former Libya Shield forces have also gained positive media coverage and international praise for the role they have played in the GNA-led fight against IS.
This could increase calls for them to be integrated into a future Libyan army.
To be continued
Lisa Watanabe – Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Humanities, Social and Political Studies, Institute of Security Studies, Zurich. Specializes in the issues of North Africa and the European Mediterranean.