Rather than “signalling the ascendancy” of Libya’s radical Islamists, the recent violence is “actually a sign of the Salafis’ isolation from the mainstream,” says a leading analyst.
The Supreme Security Committee, an agency set up under the national transitional council, has acquired too much power, lacks accountability and may have been responsible for the lackadaisical response to the desecration of the Sufi shrines. The Salafist groups, especially in the east, who have been committing crimes such as the murder of Mr Stevens, need suppressing fast.
“The central government does not have full control over Libya’s territory,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “There are rogue areas and rogue militias that haven’t been tamed. That’s going to take time, and in a place like Libya it’s probably not going to be resolved anytime soon.”
The state’s inability to rein in Islamist and other militias threatens to undermine Libya’s democratic prospects, as anticipated in a report from the National Endowment for Democracy which anticipated the country’s transitional challenges.
The security vacuum is a consequence of the transitional authority’s weak legitimacy, says Fred Wehrey, a Carnegie Endowment fellow;
“In tackling these challenges, it is crucial not to overstate the threat from Salafism,” he contends:
By temperament, culture and history, the Libyan people are averse to the sort of radical Islamism that motivated the attacks on the consulate and earlier violence against Sufis. Across the country, there have been demonstrations against the Salafi attacks and expressions of sympathy for the victims.
The Islamists’ political weakness was demonstrated by July’s parliamentary election in July in which the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction, party won only 17 out of 80 seats and former jihadist Abdelhakim Belhaj’s Qatar-funded Islamist party won no seats at all.
But Geoff Porter, director of North African Risk Consulting, said Libya’s formerly “tenuous but?.?.?.?predictable” security environment had deteriorated into something more random and dangerous as Islamist terrorist acts had increased.
“There was a sense that most of the violence was a result of vendettas, grievances or feuds: it was something that for the most part didn’t involve westerners or anti-western ideology,” he said. “That’s definitely changed: we have seen the manifestation of an anti-western ideology that’s willing to use extreme violence to further its aim.”
A former Western ambassador airs three possible scenarios for The Economist:
[T]he first, eyeing the rapid recovery of the oil industry and rapid progress towards democracy, he called “nothing succeeds like success”. That, he reckoned, had a 30% chance of realisation. The second was a “downward spiral” into disaster, spurred by factional fighting and government chaos. That, he surmised, had a 20% chance of coming true. Most likely, he reckoned, Libya would “get by”, with dodgy security and messy politics for some time to come. That was the likeliest outcome and, on balance, it would count as a success.
But Libyans are still likely to need democracy assistance and other forms of Western aid, says Wehrey, a former military attaché to Libya:
Western diplomacy can and should play a more active role, in providing advice and assistance to guide the country through its constitutional process, rebalancing local and central governance, and reconstituting the security forces.