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On October 31, NATO’s mission in Libya officially ended. The Friends of Libya, an alliance of 13 countries led by the U.S. “ally” of Qatar, is in the driver’s seat. The sheikdom is the chief backer of the Libyan Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Libya’s secularists are warning that Qatar is using its leadership position to bring its Islamist allies to power.
NATO eagerly embraced Qatar’s role in the war to topple Muammar Qaddafi. It was the first Arab country to recognize the National Transitional Council as the legitimate governing authority and sent fighter jets into Libyan skies. Now, the Qatari Chief of Staff reveals that hundreds of Qatari troops were on the ground, planning the rebels’ offensives and “running the training and communication operations.” Now, Qatar will be in charge of setting up the new Libyan military.
Qatar has helped the Libyan Islamists since the civil war began. The tiny Gulf country is home to Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the radical Muslim Brotherhood theologian who calls himself the “Mufti of martyrdom operations.” One of his close colleagues in Qatar, Sheikh Ali Sallabi, oversaw the Brotherhood’s support to the rebels and is arguably the most influential cleric in Libya today. In keeping with Brotherhood strategy, Sallabi portrays himself as a harmless moderate. A former member of the Tripoli Municipal Governing Council said, “He is just hiding his intentions. He says one thing to the BBC and another to Al-Jazeera. If you believe him, then you don’t know the Muslim Brothers.”
Sallabi is now forming his own self-described “moderate” party that he said should not worry anyone. “This is not an Islamist party but a nationalist party… But its political agenda respects the general principles of Islam and Libyan culture,” he says. In that same interview, he admits that his party would base Libya’s next constitution solely on Sharia law.
Money and arms flowed to the Islamist militias from Qatar, including that of Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, a co-founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group terrorist organization. He has been preaching jihad against democracy as far back as 1996. The CIA considered him enough of a threat that it took him into custody in 2004 as part of its rendition program and then transferred him to Qaddafi. He was released in 2010. Ayman al-Zawahiri anointed Belhaj as the “emir of the [Libyan] mujahideen” in 2007. He is now the leader of the Tripoli Military Council and runs the country’s most powerful militia.
The Qatari-backed Islamists acted quickly to assert authority in Libya. The Muslim Brotherhood established itself in Benghazi and is responsible for the declaration of Sharia as the “basic source” of legislation in the draft constitution. The top military commander, General Abdul Fattah Younes, was assassinated in July 2011. It is suspected that an Islamist militia carried it out.
The Islamists also made it a priority to oust the secularist Prime Minister of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mahmoud Jibril. Sallabi and Belhaj condemned him, particularly after he established a council to bring the militias under the government’s control. On September 11, Belhaj scuttled an arrangement to unify the forces, saying “You will never do this without me.” Standing behind him was the Qatari chief of staff. Sallabi essentially declared Jibril an apostate, saying he is part of a group of “extreme secularists” seeking to reinstitute a dictatorship that would be worse than Qaddafi’s.
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