A widely circulated YouTube video shows a throng of Libyan demonstrators standing in an open square chanting “we want our Sisi, just as they have their Sisi”. The allusion is to former Libyan army General Khalifa Haftar who this week declared an overall military campaign entitled the “Battle of Dignity” aimed at purging Libya from “the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups”.
Haftar’s armed campaign which was launched with a massive anti-aircraft missiles offensive on the parliament building in Tripoli, was coupled with attack on an Islamist organisation in Benghazi. It speedily gathered momentum as ex-army personnel and tribal factions, in addition to individuals such as Libya’s representative to the UN and its head of naval forces announced their support of to the former general.
Over the past three years, Libya has spiralled into a chaos fuelled by warring factions of armed militiamen, and now, religious fundamentalist groups which wield their influence over the Libyan government. Successive weak governments have not been able to curb the constant warring and breakdown in the country’s security.
Haftar has accused the Libyan government of providing a safe haven to terrorists and urged the Libyan Supreme Court to appoint a crisis ‘civilian cabinet’ to oversee early elections.
On Thursday, additional momentum was gained with calls directed to civilians to take to their street to show their support for the “Battle of Dignity”.
Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, 3 July 2013 (photo: muftah/Amr Nabil)
The scenario in Libya is with variations reminiscent of that which occurred in Egypt prior to 30 June 2013 and which concluded with the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohamed Morsi being ousted from office. This signalled the beginning of Egypt’s all-out ‘war on terror’ that targeted extremist Al-Qaeda style militant groups in the Sinai Peninsula, some of whom had begun to infiltrate governorates in the Egyptian Delta.
The failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to continue to hold power in Egypt has been due, not only to an inability during Morsi’s one-year reign, to resolve the country’s often seemingly insurmountable social and economic development problems. It has also been due to the fact that other political groups saw the Muslim Brotherhood as ‘excluding’ them from real power-sharing. Salafi leaders have complained that while the Brotherhood depended on them to win the 2012 elections, they denied them their fair share of cabinet positions. Violations of the constitution by Morsi and condoned assaults against the Muslim Brotherhood’s political opponents ultimately triggered Egypt’s wave of massive popular protests that ended with Morsi’s forcible removal, sealed by the army’s intervention.
The reverberations of Egypt’s ’180 degree political shift’ were visibly felt in Tunisia and Morocco, and now, Libya.
In Tunisia, despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood Al-Nahda Party had won the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections after the Tunisian revolution which ousted Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali in 2011, the party received a blow when Tunisians (who are of a largely secular orientation) in January 2014 rejected including Islamic Sharia as a source of law in the constitution.
Al-Nahda’s political decline had actually begun with the assassination of the two liberal political figures Shoukri Bel’aid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013. Although Al-Nahda was not involved in the assassinations it was blamed for tolerating the militance that bred them.
The same charge, that of condoning militance, was directed against Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, during which lethal attacks took place against army and police personnel in the Sinai.
With lessons learnt from Egypt, however, Tunisia’s Al-Nahda accepted the drafting of a secular constitution. The party’s leader Rashed Al-Ghanoushi explicitly stated that his party would not allow Tunisia to ‘become another Egypt”. He was presumably alluding to former president Morsi’s deposition because of his intransigence.
Today, while Syria and Iraq grapple with great internal unrest that is laced with the infiltration of armed militant groups like ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) what happens in Libya, so close to Egypt and Tunisia, might set the seal for a time to come, on the ascendancy of Islamist movements in North Africa.
The military in several Arab countries is pitted in a battle against a regional wave of terrorism. What will chart the future course of political Islam however, is the peoples of those countries. It is they who elected Islamists to power, and it is they who may choose to turn the tide in another direction.