martedì 21 giugno 2016

Profile on Ansar al-Sharia in Libya

Profile on Ansar al-Sharia in Libya

While the world is looking at the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq as a major source of stability in the Middle East, there seems to be a tendency to ignore other conflicts in the region such as what is going on in Libya and Yemen. From Italy’s perspective, the Libyan conflict has been a major problem for its security and stability. One group responsible for this instability in Libya is the Salafist organisation known as Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL). Its efforts to create a truly integrated insurgency network in conjunction with Al-Qaeda is noteworthy as many of its peers such as Daesh do not have this goal in mind. In trying to understand ASL, The Libyan state response to its emergence must also be looked at as it has a major effect on the organisation’s strategy as well as its relationship with its peers and rivals. ASL had major potential to be a potent insurgent organisation in Libya but circumstances beyond its control have caused it to be undermined and weakened since 2014. 

The ideological underpinnings of ASL began far before the first Libyan civil war in 2011. To understand ASL’s hard line stance on Sharia law, it is necessary to understand the Gaddafi regime’s stance on Sharia prior to its defeat. Gaddafi’s regime was known to be taking a peculiar ideological stance by 1972 with the introduction of the Third Universal Theory. In short, the theory was seen by Gaddafi as being an alternative to the traditional bi-polar capitalism vs communism model that the world was focusing on at the time. It involved strong support for both pan-Arabism and Islamism which were seen as being the main driving forces behind humanity’s progress.[1] However, Gaddafi soon went on to soon develop a policy which was grounded in de-facto secularism by the mid-1970s. Not only this, Gaddafi was not afraid to make claims about Islam which undermined many orthodox beliefs. The role of imams was seen as being superfluous to Gaddafi which angered many prominent members of the Islamic religious leadership. What ensued was a substantial purging of religious leaders critical of Gaddafi between May and June 1978.[2] The ideological underpinning of Gaddafi’s Third Universal Theory known as the Green Book was eventually publicly seen by the religious leadership as being incompatible with Islam. While Gaddafi seemed to still believe in Islam, his view was certainly incompatible with the traditional Sunni interpretation of Islam. What is of relevance is Gaddafi’s open claim that sharia is not an essential element of Islam.[3] This created a political environment which made future key ASL leaders such as Mohammad al-Zahawi feel ideologically undermined by the Gaddafi regime. What is also important is the fact that Gaddafi openly persecuted future key ASL figures such as Mohommad al-Zahawi , Nasser al-Tarshani and Ahmed Abu Khattala[4] by imprisoning them at the infamous Abu-Salim Prison in Tripoli.[5] There is no doubt that they were imprisoned for their Islamist beliefs which by 1978 were counter to Gaddafi’s policy on Islam. The treatment given to Islamists such as al-Zahawi and al-Tarshani certainly did not create any room for a moderate approach as conditions in the prison were recognised as being horrific at best with torture, executions and unhealthy conditions being constantly used.[6]
Brian O'Connor

[1] Ronald Bruce St John, Libya Continuity and Change, (Routledge, London , 2011 ), p56 
[2] Ronald Bruce St John, Libya Continuity and Change , p70 
[3] Ronald Bruce St John, Libya Continuity and Change , p70 
[4] Mary Fitzgerald, ‘A Conversation with Abu Khattala’, The New Yorker, (2014), cited [2016-04-12], 
[5] Mary Fitzgerald, ‘It Wasn’t Us’, Foreign Policy, (2012), cited [2016-04-12], <> 
[6] Amnesty International, ‘Rising from the Shadows of Abu Salim Prison’, Amnesty (2014), cited [2016-04-12],<> 

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