Salafism in Libya
Academic writing has tended to divide Salafis into three main categories: jihadi, political, and quietist. These categories are commonly distinguished by ideological and methodological differences. Particularly important, it is suggested, are different attitudes to the state, political authority and the use of violence. What happens, though, when state institutions collapse, when there is no state authority or when state authority is contested? In the midst of political upheaval and armed conflict, how do Salafis relate to the state and politics more generally? Developments in Libya between 2011 and 2020 have provided an ideal opportunity to look at these questions. This paper analyses Salafi relations with state institutions and politics more generally in times of turmoil. It does so by focusing on ‘political’ Salafism, represented by leading figures in the former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and ‘quietist’ Salafism, represented by the so-called ‘Madkhali’ Salafis. Based on desk research and numerous interviews with Libyan actors, it unpacks the different strategies deployed by the two groups in dealing with state institutions.
La révolution libyenne (2011) a profondément transformé le champ socio-politique salafiste et son rapport à l’État et au politique. Ces transformations recouvrent trois dynamiques principales : participation politique dans les instances de la transition, ‘milicisation’ dans le chaos sécuritaire libyen, et compétition dans le champ religieux entre mouvances salafistes. Celles-ci ont adopté des stratégies différentes pour répondre au nouvel environnement politico-militaire : influence par le bas pour les Madkhalis et influence par le haut pour les salafistes politiques et post-jihadistes. Par ailleurs, les dynamiques d’allégeance dans le contexte de polarisation Est-Ouest sont tributaires à la fois de l’équilibre des forces en présence et de considérations idéologiques. Dans un environnement politico-sécuritaire mouvant, il n’est toutefois pas toujours possible de faire coïncider impératifs idéologiques et impératifs stratégiques, lesquels semblent toujours primer sur l’idéologie.
The academic literature has tended to divide the Salafis into three main categories – jihadi, political and quietist – and has distinguished them in terms of their ideological and methodological differences, notably pertaining to Salafi groups’ varying relationships with the state and political authority and their use of violence. What happens then when state institutions collapse, when there is no state authority or when the state authority is highly contested between different groups, none of which are able to definitively assert themselves over the others? In a context of political upheaval and armed conflict, how do Salafis relate to the state and to ‘politics’? The developments in Libya between 2011 and 2019 provided an ideal opportunity to look into these questions. Actors that identify with Salafism have played important roles in Libya’s various stages of conflict and political transformation since 2011. However, they have reacted to these transformations in a way that to some extent blurs the lines conventionally drawn between Salafi currents. Focusing on two currents – ‘political’ Salafism, represented by leading figures in the former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and ‘quietist’ Salafism, represented by the so-called ‘Madkhali’ Salafis – this paper analyses the two currents’ relationships to ‘politics’ and state institutions in times of turmoil. It counters the idea of a fault line between so-called ‘political’ and ‘apolitical’ Salafis and unpacks the different strategies deployed by the two groups to deal with state institutions, together with the political, albeit different, nature of the objectives that they have pursued.
With the prospect of reaching a peace agreement and holding a general election in Libya by the end of 2021, Libya’s constitutional future has recently gained renewed attention and triggered intense debates. Nevertheless, the constitution-making process initiated in 2014 and the resulting draft constitution issued in 2017 have remained in limbo since then, raising questions about the reasons that caused such a long blockage of the process and the possible fate of the draft constitution in the current peace negotiations. This paper analyses both the internal and external challenges facing the Libyan Constituent Drafting Assembly in drawing up this draft and the reasons that have prevented the completion of the constitution-making process to date. It argues that, although technically flawed and still contested by a number of Libyan actors, the draft constitution embodies the drafters’ efforts at compromise and represents the maximum possibility to build consensus in the conditions of conflict and political divisions in which it was produced.