By Sasha Toperich For USMilitary.com
Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC
When political parties in the Muslim Brotherhood tent suffered their defeat in the Libyan House of Representatives elections in June this year, they turned to guns and powder to reclaim their power. The Muslim Brotherhood, led by Nuri Abu Sahmain (former head of the General National Congress, reluctant to hand over his power to the duly elected new House of Representatives) gained spiritual strength from Sheikh Al-Sadiq Al-Ghriani, Libya’s Grand Mufti, who supported the Islamist militias’ “crusade” on Tripoli from his base in the UK via the internet TV station Tanasuh, owned by his relative. Reports suggest that Sheikh Al-Ghriani fled the UK to Qatar, known to financially support the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, among others.
Support for the Islamist militias’ “Operation Libya Dawn” comes primarily from the two strongest blocs in the old GNC: the Muslim Brotherhood and the so-called Loyalty to Martyrs. These two groups used threats and outright force to pass the controversial Political Isolation Law last year, with the outward aim of removing politicians with ties to the Gaddafi regime, but with the real goal of excluding competitors from the political process. Afterward, with power consolidated, the blocs elected Abu Sahmain, who formed a new Libyan Revolutionaries’ Room militia with $700 million in financing from the government. The Abu Sahmain GNC also awarded $1.6 billion in aid to the Muslim Brotherhood government of then-President Mohammed Morsi.
The Libyan people spoke openly in the last election when they clearly said NO to the Muslim Brotherhood and their extremist agenda. Less than 15 percent of votes were awarded to the Muslim Brotherhood, who holds a tight grip on Libya these days. Their attack on Tripoli destroyed most airplanes and airport facilities, as well as the main fuel depot that lies near the airport, burning millions of gallons of fuel and sending clouds of dark smoke all over the city and miles beyond. Thousands of families were forced to flee the fighting. Long power outages became a daily occurrence and fuel shortages reduced traffic to a crawl, leading to shortages in all aspects of life.
“Safeguarding” the U.S. Embassy and Other Love Stories
Practically all foreign embassies evacuated. Pictures emerged on social media of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Misrata militia swimming in the pool inside the U.S. Embassy compound in Tripoli while consuming alcohol. The new House of Representatives convened in the eastern city of Tobruk (about 1000 miles from Tripoli) where Muslim Brotherhood militias have little influence. Members of the new House of Representatives re-elected Abdullah Al-Thinni as Libya’s Prime Minister (whose house in Tripoli was burned down by the Muslim Brotherhood), but the ousted Abu Sahmain, at a meeting in Tripoli with fewer than 25 Muslim Brotherhood members of parliament and their sympathizers, announced Omar Alhasi as Libya’s new PM and charged him to form a new government.
This is an attempted coup, an unacceptable use of force to impose the will of a small group on the Libyan people. Abu Sahmain and the Muslim Brotherhood are creating a “new reality on the ground” by military force, by terrorizing people and blackmailing the families of Congressmen now in Tobruk in the hopes of forcing them to quit, and by creating parallel political bodies to create further destabilization and chaos in the country.
The international community, including the UN, U.S., EU and African Union, has repeatedly recognized the new House of Representatives that convened in Tobruk and asked Abu Sahmain to cede power and engage as the leader of the opposition in the constructive dialogue that is long overdue in Libya.
We should always be careful to label various factions in Libya as “Islamists,” “moderates,” “revolutionaries,” and so on. It is obvious that an enormous propaganda war is being waged to further muddle the image of Libya today. What ordinary Libyans throughout the country want is a peaceful, prosperous, and free state. This is no fight between “Islamists” and “secularists” but between those whose regional agenda stretches beyond the Libyan voices heard in the last election. A comprehensive national reconciliation dialogue is a must, to include all parties that respect democracy and the rule of law – including, if they choose to do so, the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies.
Media War – Another Tool Exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood
Libya Ahrar TV, based in Doha, Qatar, was one of the most popular TV channels in Libya. Shortly before the attack on Tripoli airport, the channel’s founder Mahmoud Shammam was forced to resign, and was replaced by Ali Salabi (brother of militant Ismael Salabi and a formative member of the Muslim Brotherhood). Soon after, anchors started resigning one by one. The most famous resignation was done live by one of its lead anchormen, Nabil al-Hajj, who was constantly harassed during live interviews through his earpiece and was told what to say. Now Libya Ahrar simply shows documentaries — everyone has left because of its Brotherhood tilt. Libya al Watania, a national government-owned TV channel, was invaded by Misrata militias during the Tripoli conflict. Staff was prevented from coming inside the building and they regularly brought Misrata soldiers on and conducted pro-militia shows. It became nothing short of a North Korean-style propaganda station and forced the Libyan government to request that it be pulled from the air. Alasema TV was ransacked after Misrata militias took control of the capital – studio burned, crew kidnapped, founder’s home destroyed. Now it’s just a black screen. This has been but a part of a sustained Brotherhood power grab of the media.
House of Representatives Declares Leaders of Operation Libya Dawn Terrorists
The new House of Representatives has moved quickly to call for a cease-fire by all warring parties. When their call went unheeded, they declared Operation Libya Dawn’s leadership and all groups supporting it terrorist organizations. The declaration also included Ansar Al Sharia, Libya’s version of ISIS and another group declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
The U.S. government and the international community must explicitly and clearly rebuke the flagrant moves by the GNC leadership, controlled by the Islamists and their militias, as they stage a power grab by force and derail the democratic process represented by the newly elected House of Representatives. Expressions of concern are not enough.
UN Security Council Resolution 2174 – A Good Start
The latest UN Security Council Resolution 2174, calling for an immediate ceasefire and inclusive political dialogue, is a welcome move. Resolution 2174 also includes travel bans on those who hinder peace and without a doubt, Salah Badi, head of the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) will be right at the top of the list. It is also critically important to take legal action against those individuals liable under the International Criminal Court for the destruction of civil aviation and facilities at Tripoli International Airport and all acts of revenge and terror against their political opponents, which continue unabated in Tripoli today. The leaders and proponents of these terrorist actions against life and property and the democratic process in Libya must be apprehended, their overseas assets confiscated. Only with such firm and bold action will these groups and those like them throughout the Middle East learn the limits of their illegal, immoral actions. Only then will they get the message that terror will not be tolerated, and Libya will be able to move forward.
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