Islamist boot-kissing in Libya
Interesting! Ali el-Sellabi, a prominent Libyan Islamist, has come out in favor of Seif el-Islam el-Qadhafis ascent to power. You’ll remember he was publicly anointed regime no. 2 recently, which seemed to confirm that — despite some hickups — he’s en route to succeeding daddy.
Sellabi, who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, has previously helped mediate reconciliation moves between the Libyan state and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a banned Salafi-Jihadi outfi which fought the regime in the 1990s. This mediation bore fruit earlier this year, when the group’s imprisoned leaders started publishing a series of “revisions” of their ideology (through Seif el-Islam’s media outlets), and called on those LIFG members who had joined al-Qaida to repent.
That was surely the main part of their deal with the regime, but it appears there’s still some sucking-up to do before payments can get through. Says Sellabi to the press:
The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood inside Libya, and the leaders of the LIFG, and the Libyan Sheikhs and Ulema support the reform project led by Seif el-Islam to build a state of law and institutions.
The leaders of the MB notified him that they are grateful for Seif el-Islam’s efforts to turn the page in their case, by bringing them out of jail despite heavy sentences — ranging between death and life in prison, for the majority of them — and by his attempts to bring them back to their universities and posts, and to compensate them.
The leaders of the LIFG, who are presently in prison, asked Seif el-Islam to “fullfil his efforts until they are set free and enjoy liberty, and are able to participate in the building of tomorrow’s Libya”
To sum it up for you: Pleasepleaseplease? Clearly, Libya’s reform Islamists are hoping to ride Seif el-Islam’s coattails to legalization and influence. That’s a good deal for both sides. If Seif el-Islam is really going to engage with some more serious liberalization after, or even before, Qadhafi Sr’s passing from power (it’s likely he’ll try, since A. it’s absolutely necessary and B. a reform project may help him deepen his own power base) he’ll have good use of some organized Islamist cover, which could help him mobilize grassroots support and blunt the remaining Islamic opposition. Also, the regime probably prefers the MB to whatever else may fill the void, should a political vacuum open up — the lesson of Algeria in 1988-1991 weighs heavy on everyone’s mind, I’m sure.
The MB, for its part, has always been more than willing to work with ideological opponents in power, as long as they get something in return, and in this case, there really isn’t much of an alternative. The Libyan Brotherhood’s leaders are mostly in exile, and they’ve not been able to operate openly in Libya for many years. To stay in exile and rant angrily as the Qadhafis make peace with all the rest of their significant internal and external enemies would be the principled stand, of course, but at the end of the day, all that would accomplish is to shut themselves out of the game, just as it begins for real.
There are precedents for this kind of thinking. If we look west to the Algerian example, the local wing of the Ikhwan (the MSP) has dropped all pretense at opposition and joined Bouteflika’s alliance présidentielle. The Algerian regime obviously has use for an influential Islamist faction to place up front on the bandwagon, as it lumbers over Algerian civil society, and the MSP made the wise choice, early on, to climb on the juggernaut rather than to run in front of it.
But that has its drawbacks. Publicly blessing le pouvoir has stained their reputation, political credibility and Islamic credentials in the eyes of millions of Algerians, and especially those Islamist-leaning circles that they need the most. This may turn out to be no inconsequential drawback as time goes on, and as the MSP drifts into factions, bickering over posts and salaries, it looks increasingly as just another regime toy. The Libyan Brothers are in for a similar balancing act. Everybody wants them to encourage reform of the regime, but the winning trick is to end up identified with “reform” — not “regime”.