Muammar Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, has announced that the regime has struck a deal with its Islamist opposition to turn Libya into a Sharia state and crush the secular rebels. This comes as the top rebel commander, Abdel Fateh Younes, was murdered, possibly by Islamists. The Islamist opposition, however, says Qaddafi is just trying to divide the rebels. Libya is now facing a civil war between a dictator who seeks Islamist support, and rebels with Islamists among them.
Seif al-Islam claims that a joint statement between the regime and its new Islamist friends will soon be released. He said that the agreement was reached when the regime agreed to make Sharia the law of the land. The rebel city of Darna will become “like Mecca” and has already become “Waziristan on the Mediterranean.” After winning the war, he said that “Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran.” As for the secular rebels, “The liberals will escape or be killed…We will do it together.”
The announcement comes on the heels of the assassination of the top rebel commander, Abdel Fateh Younes. A minister with the opposition’s National Transitional Council claims that a rebel-allied Islamist militia called the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade was responsible. However, others suspect that the Katiba Yussef Shakir militia was behind the murder. The group recently attacked a prison in Benghazi and freed 300 inmates that were on the side of the regime. The rebels have since battled the militia, accusing it of being a “fifth column” that infiltrated their ranks on behalf of Qaddafi.
The Islamist identified by Seif al-Islam as the regime’s new ally, Ali Sallabi, says the regime is lying. He says he supports a civil constitution, and is committed to overthrowing Qaddafi. Indeed, the Islamists have invested their hopes in the rebel cause. The Muslim Brotherhood is active in rebel-controlled Libya now, and Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi has issued a fatwa permitting the killing of Qaddafi. Al-Qaeda is against Qaddafi, and members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group are in the fight. There are also indications that Hezbollah is helping the rebels, but the terrorist group denies this claim.
If it is true that Qaddafi has mended ties with some of the Islamists by offering to make the country a Sharia state, it wouldn’t be surprising. The regime orchestrated numerous terrorist attacks in the 1980s, such as the 1986 disco bombing in Germany and the Lockerbie bombing of 1988. In 2003, Qaddafi used an American member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abdurahman Alamoudi, to reach out to Al-Qaeda. He was used to pay the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia $1 million to kill then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia following a public spat. The plot was foiled before the attack took place. In recent years, the regime tried to bury the hatchet with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, saying it wanted to “end a tragic period.”
In 2008, one of Qaddafi’s sons, Hannibal, said, “If I had an atom bomb, I would wipe Switzerland off the map” after Swiss authorities arrested him for assault. Qaddafi then used the Swiss ban on mosque minarets to declare jihad “by all means.” “Those who destroy God’s mosques deserve to be attacked through jihad and if Switzerland was on our borders, we would fight it,” he said. Qaddafi later said he was only asking for non-violent retaliation. That same year, Iraqi officials stated that Seif al-Islam was sending suicide bombers to their country.
In February 2010, Qaddafi gave a pro-terrorism speech, saying, “They [the West] want to prevent Muslims from undertaking jihad which means ‘struggle’ by calling it terrorism.” He justified attacks on Israel and violence to “defend” Muslim land from occupation. “We will not abandon jihad because it is Islamic duty,” he vowed. Since the civil war in Libya began, Qaddafi said he’d wage jihad alongside Al-Qaeda, and warned the days would return “where we bomb our cars or put explosive belts around our beds and around our women.”
It is still difficult to see the Islamist opposition switching sides and fighting on behalf of Qaddafi, given the atrocities of the regime and the fact that the rebels are still the most likely victor. Seif al-Islam may very well be simply trying to scare the West, and to divide the ranks of the regime’s enemies. After all, a clash within the opposition is inevitable. On the one hand, the vice chairman of the National Transitional Council flatly states, “There is no place for an Islamic state in Libya.” On the other, some rebel commanders like Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi have waged jihad and fought the U.S. in Iraq. He said that “members of Al-Qaeda are good Muslims and are fighting against the invader.”
On Sharia law, al-Hasidi said, “No Islamist revolution has ever succeeded. Only when the whole population was included, did we succeed and that means a more inclusive ideology.” That does not mean that he is against Sharia-based governance, but that he views democracy as a means to attaining a popularly-supported Sharia state. In any case, there cannot be a long-term reconciliation between the goals of the Islamists and the rebel leadership. A break is inevitable, and Qaddafi is likely trying to make it happen as soon as possible.
The Islamists suddenly find themselves in a strong position. If the rebels win, then they can become a part of the new Libyan government. If Qaddafi wins, he will seek their support to stabilize his rule and hunt down his liberal opponents. It’s a good time to be an Islamist in Libya.