Libya’s Islamist menace
By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis
It is surprising, almost bewildering, how Libya, which not long ago served Western politicians so well by furnishing them with a convenient distraction from their foreign policy failures, has almost completely fallen off the agenda.
The bogeyman – Muammar Gaddafi – is gone and his odious offspring are in prison or exile, so there’s nothing to worry about. The terror, chaos and disintegration afflicting the country are unfortunate, but who cares – the Libyans brought it upon themselves and it is only they who are suffering.
Not so, and those who are now looking away while Libya implodes will live to regret it. This is particularly true for Libya’s most important neighbour, Egypt.
In an incisive examination of Libya’s descent into anarchy, Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi hits the nail on the head.
“If not by the ballot box, then by the suicide belt”
“Of all the reasons cited for Libya’s bleak future at the start of the uprising that overthrew Gaddafi,” he says, “one particular scenario didn’t figure prominently… the emergence of Islamist militias as powerful players.”
According to Abdelhadi, the reasons that are most commonly cited as being behind the lawlessness and chaos in Libya, such as tribal conflict and factional disputes, “are containable and can eventually be resolved, and will most likely stay within Libyan borders”. However, the Islamist threat is of a different order altogether, he says.
First, the Islamists will accept nothing short of prevailing. If not by the ballot box, then by the suicide belt. And because they have failed at the ballot box in Libya, they seem determined to prevail by other means. All the more so after their ideological brothers were overthrown by the people in Egypt, and the influence of their Tunisian brethren has been curtailed.
Muslim Brotherhood’s fingerprints
At the core of the Islamist cancer that is killing Libya is the Muslim Brotherhood – small and detested by most Libyans but well organized and, in the anarchy that is virtually part of the Libyan identity, being well organized makes all the difference.
Indeed, following his ouster as Libya’s prime minister, the hapless Ali Zeidan singled out the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood as the force obstructing the transition to an elected government. The reason for this, he said, is that the Brotherhood knows it could not win in an election.
This should be reason enough why, of all Libya’s neighbours, the one that should be most worried is Egypt, which has just escaped by the skin of its teeth the deadly grip of the “One man, one vote, one time” party, its own Muslim Brotherhood. Yet, as Abdelhadi says, “its response has been typically lethargic or pathetic”.
Why Egypt should be worried
For one thing, Egyptian workers in Libya have been a key target of attacks by Libyan Islamists. As Abdelhadi observes, the killing of Egyptian Copts in particular and the sacking of their churches “carried the hallmark of the Muslim Brothers and other terrorist groups associated with them”. One such “Brother” quoted by Abdelhadi wrote on the Facebook page of the Libyan youth wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, sayings:
Be careful, our Libyan brothers, of the Egyptian Christians who work in your country. They sow the seeds of sedition and were the main reason in obstructing the Islamic project in Egypt. They are fighting us day and night with your money that they bring back from your country here. Eradicate them from your country if you can to please Allah, because they are the worst enemies of Islam. Do not let your money be used to to wage war against us and defeat us. May Allah reward you for your good work.
But the murderous violence and brutality shown towards Egyptians in Libya is not the only reason why Cairo should treat the Islamist threat from Libya as its top priority. As Abdelhadi notes,
That heavy weapons from Libya have found their way into Egypt is beyond doubt. That was on ample display when for the first time the terrorists had access to shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missile which they used to shoot down an army helicopter in Sinai.
This, Abdelhadi says, means that the Islamist menace from Libya is just as serious as that in Sinai. “Failing to realize that,” he concludes, “could have disastrous consequences for Egypt and the wider world.”
We could not agree more.