Al-Qaida advises the Arab Spring: Libya

Unlike the Arab uprising in Syria, which was the subject of my previous post, the one in Libya seems to have reached its end. The regime has been overthrown and Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and some of his sons are dead. Although it is by no means certain that Libya is on its way to becoming a fully-fledged liberal democracy, the Libyan people have achieved things that most Syrians can still only dream of. In this post, I will look at how some scholars and ideologues associated with al-Qaida responded to the situation in Libya.

The West

One member of al-Qaida Central who responds to the situation in Libya is, perhaps unsurprisingly since he is a Libyan himself, Abu Yahya al-Libi. His comments stress that the United States is “the idol (taghut) of the age” (i.e., the country that other countries “serve”) and “the source of terrorism”. He asks rhetorically: “Isn’t America the one who supported the regime of ‘Husni Barak’, the pharaoh of Egypt, but why is it that today it is singing the praises of the Egyptian people’s freedom?! Aren’t America and the governments of the West the ones who supported and [still] support the despotic regime of ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih [in Yemen]? Aren’t America and France the ones who totally supported the tyrannical regime of Zayn al-‘Abidin [in Tunisia] that refused its people the least of their rights?! But why is it that afterwards they praise the people for obtaining their freedom?!”

Powerful stuff indeed. It is not entirely clear, however, how this is related to Libya, with which the United States has long been on very bad terms and for whose regime it therefore cannot really be blamed. The reason for al-Libi’s criticism of the US seems to be that the country has contributed to liberating Libya through NATO, for which many Libyans are supposedly quite grateful, and he may fear that this will lead to a positive image of the West among many Libyans.

NATO’s influence in Libya is also the subject of an “open letter to the Muslims in Libya” by Abu l-Hasan Rashid al-Bulaydi. The author emphasises that it is important to understand that “the Crusader NATO” is not out to help the Muslims but to “fight their religion”. “The Crusader West”, al-Bulaydi says, wants to serve its own interests and NATO aims to “contain your revolution”, give it “a secular identity and a Western spirit” and aim for “loyalty to the enemies of Islam and enmity and war against the jihadi trend”. He therefore advises Libyans to act with wisdom and “not to fear the power of the Crusader West, because God is more powerful”.

Continue fighting

Somewhat in line with the above, several scholars argue that the fighting in Libya may have stopped after the fall of the regime but that it should continue until the country is an Islamic state. The Jordanian radical scholar Abu Humam Bakr b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Athari, in a short piece entitled “Oh people of success, have you already put down your weapons?”, states that Libyans should “fight for the sake of legislating the heavenly shari’a. That is the goal and for its sake does the upholder of the unity of God (muwahhid) fight till the end.” He cites a tradition about the life of the Prophet Muhammad in which the latter is said to have put down his weapons but was encouraged by the angel Jibril to fight on, which Muhammad subsequently did. This should serve as an example for Libyans today, whom Abu Humam advises not to listen to or try to satisfy NATO since “Jews and Christians will not be satisfied with you until you follow their religion” (Q. 2: 120).

Libya is ideally placed for a continuation of such a fight, argues Abu Sa’d al-‘Amili in a treatise on the revolution in Libya, because the country has certain advantages for mujahidun. First of all, he says, Libyans are conservative people; secondly, it has a “noble jihadi history”; and, thirdly, the country is geographically close to Algeria, where al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) has its base. Since Libya is part of the Islamic Maghrib and AQIM also has some Libyan leaders, Abu Sa’d writes, the revolution offers some excellent chances to link up with like-minded radicals in the rest of the region. The application of the shari’a should be the result of the jihad that Muslims in Libya have to wage. This is really necessary because the temporary leaders currently ruling Libya cannot be relied upon. “We cannot imagine”, Abu Sa’d states, “that these liberators [i.e. the revolutionaries who overthrew the regime] will give their loyalty to a gang of unknown secularists who follow the Crusader West to continue the occupation and exploitation of the country in the name of democracy.” NATO, the author writes, did not “participate in striking the military bases of al-Qadhafi to defend the honour of the Libyan people and to save thousands  of likely victims from the brutality of al-Qadhafi and his soldiers”. The West, he says, was involved to serve its own economic and security interests and actually “has a great fear of the Islamic tendency of the revolutionaries”. This, he says, is why there is a transitional council of secularists.


An entirely different approach to the situation is taken by the Syrian-British Abu Basir al-Tartusi, who also had much to say about Syria. This time, however, we will look at what he wrote on the revolution in Libya. Although he obviously agrees that Libya should become an Islamic state with the shari’a as its only source of legislation, he stresses that the country should work on internal reconciliation. He states that all Libyans are Muslims who love God and the Prophet Muhammad and that jihadis should take care not to create a distance between themselves and the people by saying “these are with us and these are against us, these are with Islam and these are against Islam”. Also, he emphasises that the Libyan people have lived under a tyrannical and infidel leader for over forty years, which means that jihadis are likely to encounter tensions in society. Abu Basir advises jihadi to deal with these with friendliness and wisdom.

Interestingly, Abu Basir not only advises jihadis to take a friendly approach towards the Libyan people as a whole, but also towards the remnants of the regime. He mentions that most of those working for al-Qadhafi’s regime were probably ignorant, poor and forced to cooperate and that they should be dealt with in a spirit of justice and leniency. It is wrong, Abu Basir states, to treat your opponents with the mindset and law of a tyrant. In fact, and quite opposite to men such as Abu Humam al-Athari, Abu Basir advises that people should stop fighting once the regime has fallen and solve conflicts with words and through dialogue. The country is now entering the phase of rebuilding, which is more difficult than fighting. Jihadis therefore need all the wisdom they have to set up an Islamic state in Libya.

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