Jihadists in Libya


How will the TNC deal with 'reformed terrorists?'

Omar Ashour has a nice piece in Foreign Policy about the potential resurgence of jihadists in post-Qaddafi Libya. According to Ashour, there are three possibilities for the jihadists: reintegration, political inclusion, or clash.

In the aftermath of Qaddafi, interactions between the National Transitional Council (NTC) and armed Islamist organizations can take three trajectories: reintegration, inclusion, or clash. The experience of South Africa and reintegration of the African National Congress (ANC) fighters comes to mind as a relatively successful case, providing some useful lessons. Reintegration in the military and security apparatuses will depend on their actual size and contributions, and of course, on the political will and calculations of the NTC. This path would not only be problematic for the NTC’s Western partners, but also for the security and intelligence personnel, who will have to deal with the former “terrorists” as colleagues.

The second trajectory is political inclusion. This will also face some hurdles. Among those is the willingness of the mid-rank and the grassroots to participate in a democratic political process after being indoctrinated for decades with the idea that democracy is inherently anti-Islamic. But signs of successful jihadist transformation come from neighboring Egypt. The Islamic Group, a much larger armed Islamist organization whose leaders authored a big section of the anti-democratic literature, successfully dismantled its armed wing and finally formed a politically party (the Construction and Development). This can be a model to follow for Libyan armed Islamist militias, if their leadership so chooses.

The third scenario is probably the worst for Libya — the clash. A civil war, even a mini one, to oust Islamists would be as disastrous for Libyans and their neighbors as was the Algerian civil war in the 1990s. Unfortunately this scenario is not unlikely. A detailed study on resistance to authoritarianism by Columbia University has shown that the probability of a country relapsing into civil war following a successful anti-dictatorship armed campaign is 43 percent. The study arrives at this figure after surveying 323 cases of armed and unarmed opposition campaigns between 1900 and 2006. Most of the lucky countries that escaped that civil war fate went through a successful disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process and, in parallel, a serious attempt at democratization. Both processes will be critical in determining the future of Libya and its Islamists in the aftermath of Qaddafi.

The first and second scenarios are linked and likely represent one scenario with two distinct strategies. The process of political inclusion will include some sort of reintegration that will force western partners to deal with the ‘reformed terrorists.’ It is difficult to see a path in which former fighters are reintegrated into the security apparatus of the state without some form of political representation. Both of these tactics – as Ashour notes – depends on the willingness of the TNC and the ability of the jihadists to accept both democratic political involvement as well as the inevitable moderation through compromise that accompanies participatory democracy.

Perhaps to a lesser extent, the TNC will have to utilize the DDR tactics with the various independent militias (around 40) who may not want to disarm. This is particularly important as some have participated in revenge violence against Qaddafi supporters. The third option brought up by Ashour – clash – concerns not just the jihadists, but also the independent militias as well as the Qaddafi supporters.

In other words, there are many actors in Libya and they are not all united under the TNC. As I mentioned on Russia Today this weekend, the ability of the TNC to effectively manage the transition to democracy, it must be able to police the state and avoid violence with any of the three groups mentioned above. The possibility for post-revolution violence is historically great – 43% – and there are major reasons to believe that the TNC will not be able to avoid this type of relapse. I have said it a million times: security is the most important first-step for Libya. Without a collective sense of security, the likelihood of violence increases greatly and unfortunately, any isolated act of violence (by loyalists insurgents or anyone else) will exponentially increase the greater sense of insecurity and push the country closer and closer to conflict.

Photo from the Conservative Treehouse


3 thoughts on “Jihadists in Libya

  1. There’s a 4th scenario , the jihadists taking over and declaring a Talibanisque state with a strict interpretation of Sharia. This is a likely scenario because they are supported due to their significant role in toppling Gaddafi(especially in the Western part) but mostly because of their religious rhetoric that appeals to most Libyans not to mention they are backed by the influential Wahhabi Qatar.

    1. Hey Azure, thanks for reading

      I suppose that is a 4th option, but i do not think that it is likely. While Libya is a religious state, there are also a lot of support for a more liberal government. Much like Egypt, which is one of the most devout of Muslim countries, Libya is likely to see a push for power by the Islamist movements there, but they will be confronted by parties pushing a more secular/liberal agenda. Thus, while it is possible – or perhaps even likely – that Islamists will eventually win support in Libya (whenever that may be) they will likely face enough opposition to prevent a Taliban-like state.

  2. Although the major difference between Libya and Portugal (my revolution) is the lack of any recognizable civil infrastructure, one of the 80+ political parties (besides the communist party) was the MRPP (Maoist). Few took them very seriously (they were known as “Little boys who paint on walls” ( “Meninos, Raptors e Pintores de Paredes”-colloquially). Many of the emergent political groups in Libya will likewise be sidelined. it remains to be seen whether Al Qaeda and the Talibs with their Deobandi,Wahabi influences can gain traction in Libya. In any event we’ll probably have a few hair raising moments before Libya reaches some kind of equilibrium.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s