Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Libya: Cracks in the armour | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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When the rebel fighters entered the city of Tripoli, and Gaddafi fled it with his followers, we spoke of the significance of those rebels being led by a well-known Libyan “Jihadist”. We saw Sheikh Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the Libyan Transitional Council, complaining that extremist, religious elements had infiltrated the rebel ranks. We heard his brave admission of the existence of extremist elements among the rebels, particularly after a group of them killed the military leader and former Minister of Interior Abdul-Fattah Younis, in a moment of conflict over power.

As I indicated previously, some have declined to take stock of this reality, and instead see this as a distortion of the Libyan rebels’ image.

The fear that the Libyan rebels’ civil voice will be hijacked, or at least hindered, is a legitimate one, particularly as the fundamentalist elements who exist among them have now been unmasked. It is true that these elements are yet to provide a major or leading voice, but their voice is growing louder in an alarming manner.

Therefore, a warning sign has now come to prominence. The Libyan fundamentalists, currently orienting their discourse and confrontation against Gaddafi and his regime, may soon turn upon members of the Transitional Council and the new Libyan authority, after they succeed in toppling the old regime. They may be particularly hostile to any new ruling system they deem as “secular”.

In fact, the first signs of this manifested a few days ago. Ismail al-Salabi, chief of the rebels’ “17th February Battalion” in Benghazi, called upon the National Transitional Council’s temporary government to resign, under the charge that it is a remnant of the previous regime. He also lodged criticisms against secular groups seeking to distort the image of the Islamists.

In a statement to al-Jazeera television channel, al-Salabi said, “there is no longer a need for the role played by the Executive Committee representing the National Transitional Council, because it is a remnant of the former regime.” In a separate interview he gave to Reuters, al-Salabi criticized what he termed as “secular groups”, which he said were seeking to discredit Islamists.

This is an early but dangerous indicator of what is to come, particularly as the Gaddafi regime is yet to be put out of its misery. Rather, the ills of Gaddafi’s authority could still pose a threat to the new holders of power in Libya.

Any rational person must seek to nip this problem in the bud, rather than hesitating and mumbling, in an attempt to promote an embellished image of the state of affairs.

There are religious extremists among the rebels who have an alternate vision of the structure of the new state, the relationship between the authorities, and Libya’s image in general. In this respect, their views are not widely dissimilar to those of Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, or in the best of cases, the views of Sheikh Safwat Hijazi in Egypt.

I will repeat it once again: If this problem is not addressed now, firstly by acknowledging it and secondly by confronting it, there will be a major problem in the near future. There is a storm brewing, and al-Salabi’s statements represent the first rains and first winds of evil.