On Tuesday, even as negotiations took place in Geneva between the two sides, violence broke out in Libya. Islamic State gunmen assaulted the luxury Corinthia hotel in the capital, Tripoli.
Clarion spoke with Dr. Ayman Grada, the co-founder of Libyan Youth Voices about the situation in Libya and what happened on Tuesday. He was kind enough to answer a few questions.
At the current time Libya has two parliaments and two loose alliances of opposed militia groups fighting each other. An Islamist aligned militia coalition fights under the banner of ‘Libya Dawn’ and are based in the capital Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Omar al-Hasi. ‘Libya Dawn’ is backed by Qatar and Turkey.
They are opposed by army factions loyal to rogue General Khalifa Hafter fighting for the internationally recognized parliament based in the eastern city of Tobruk, led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani. This parliament has the official backing of western governments and is supported by Egypt and the UAE.
Clarion Project: Omar al-Hassi, Prime Minister of the Islamist Tripoli Parliament, has claimed that tuesday's attack was an attempt on his life. Does this seem credible to you?
Is there a combative situation between the Islamist Tripoli Parliament and the Islamic State branch in Libya?
Ayman Grada: Omar al-Hassi is said to have been a guest in the Corinthia Hotel at the time of the attack. However, the Islamic State claims responsibility for the "Abu Anas al-Libi foray" portraying an image of the attack as motivated by retaliation for al-Libi's abduction last year by American commandos. Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai aka ""Abu Anas al-Libi" was a Libyan al-Qaeda operative responsible for an alleged role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Those two bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands more.
Omar al-Hassi, is a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG); an with al-Qaeda affiliate. In the past he has described in a TV interview Ansar al-Sharia, which is designated as a terrorist group by the US Department of State, as “simple, beautiful, and amiable.”
The Islamist de-facto government controlling Tripoli attempted to cover-up for the IS attack by issuing a statement accusing “Qaddafi loyalists” for the attack. However, they lack not just concrete evidence, but also common sense.
Currently Tripoli is being controlled by an alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood and LIFG.
However, it seems that there is some sort of 'competition' rather than combative situation among various Islamist groups. They all share the same political ideology "Islamism" , and the same ultimate goal to establish a caliphate state, yet they differ in strategy and tactics.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been launching an aggressive social engineering campaign targeting Libyan youth especially. They achieved some success in creating a social incubator for Islamic State. The Muslim Brotherhood has been working relentlessly to re-engineer the Libyan national identity; by fuelling and igniting tribal war between the Arabs and the Amazigh in Nafousa Mountains (~120 km from Tripoli).
This Arab-Amazigh conflict helped Islamists to control Tripoli using (divide and conquer) strategy. The Muslim Brotherhood are also working to define a new national identity for the state in the Libyan constitution by describing the state identity as "Islamic" rather than civil state.
Clarion: The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. Has the group been gaining strength in Libya?
Grada: Absolutely, yes. They have been expanding and setting up shop in Libya since 2011. They have a strong presence in Derna, Sirte, Sabratha, and Tripoli. Also, recently they launched several assaults and slaughtered five Libyan soldiers in Jufra district in the center of the country. Interestingly, they target mostly people whom they perceive as secular/nationalist.
Clarion: How many Libyans want a separation between Mosque and State?
Grada: Most Libyans follow the Malaki-Ash'ari doctrine of Sunni Islam, which is by its very nature, moderate and far from being politicized. The same applies to the Ibadi doctrine followed by the Amazigh in western Libya.
Therefore, they view ideologies of the Muslim brotherhood/ISIS as imported and un-Libyan Islam. However, as I mentioned earlier, Radical Islamist social engineering succeeded in brainwashing some elements of the youth. Moreover, radical groups destroyed several Sufi shrines and mosques. There is an ongoing identity warfare to erase Libyan identity.
It is noteworthy that majority of Libyan votes twice went in favor of secular-leaning nationalist party. However, their votes didn't count.
After Islamist defeat in the parliamentary election, they launched a military operation called "Libya Dawn" and "Qaswara" to control Tripoli and most of western Libya.
So, it is safe to assume that most Libyans aspire to a civil state, not a theocracy.
Clarion: How are groups like yours trying to build a movement for democracy and a liberal society able to operate effectively and organize given violence like this?
Grada: We try to engage Libyan youth in the discussion using various social media platforms as well as TV and Radio. I believe that education is the most powerful weapon to combat extremism and terrorism. Working inside Libya is extremely dangerous.
Radical Islamist groups kidnapped, tortured, and assassinated many civil society activists. However, this will not stop us from fighting back to reclaim our freedom.
It is very important that we protect the Libyan national identity from this pathological creed.