The Economist story on the Muslim Brotherhood’s plans for Libya is interesting, and not just because it shreds the myth that the Libyan election led to the rise of a moderate secular government, but for the way that it highlights the Muslim Brotherhood’s political base in Islamist Benghazi.
We know that the US Mission was forced to rely on the Muslim Brotherhood for protection in Benghazi. And that’s a reflection of the political power of the Brotherhood in that city.
Starting from a much weaker base than in Egypt and Tunisia, where the Brothers have been strong for decades, the Libyan party has opened offices across the country, including a seven-floor tower in Benghazi, the second city. It has signed up hundreds of members in places where other parties have handfuls, including 1,500 in Benghazi’s central district alone.
In parliament the party won only 17 out of 80 seats that were competed for under party labels. But of the other 120 seats, reserved for people running as independents, about 60 have since joined a Brotherly caucus. It meets regularly and has an elected leader. Its cohesion enabled the party to play kingmaker during the selection of a prime minister, blocking candidates it deemed unfriendly. Its party leaders hope to use its numerical strength to give a new election law an Islamist flavour.
Outside Tripoli, the capital, the Brothers are represented in many local councils, often the best-functioning part of the new state. In Misrata, the third city, they ousted the elected mayor.
“Worries about some forms of Islamism are justified,” concedes Ramadan Eldarsi, a party bigwig in Benghazi. “But we just want to build a modern state. There is nothing new or scary that we will force people to do.”
Asked about Ansar al-Sharia, the extremist group that killed the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, four months ago, Mr Eldarsi says defensively, “we should have a conversation with them.”
This is what Obama’s regime change war in Libya has led to.