Policy Analysis

The Role of the Social Groups and Religion in the Conflict over Power in Libya

Mr. Ismail Rashad


Methodological Remark

This article focuses only on the role of the social groups and religion in the conflict over power without denying the fact that there are conflicts for power in countries and regions other than Libya and which are not necessarily fueled by religion and the social groups. This article departs from the hypothesis that the social groups and religion represent the main two factors that most affect individuals and groups, thus it almost sheds light only on these two factors.

Subsequent to the political fall of El Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, social, religious and secular groups did not put efforts into achieving an agreement that will result in clear structures for the new political regime. After determining the nature of the regime, this agreement would also aim at defining and organizing relationships of the structures of these groups. Instead, signs of conflicts over power started to appear and soon with time they were developed into disputes and then war between the different groups along with regional supporters of each party participating in the conflict.

Ever since the first days of rejection movement against Gaddafi, political, social and religious tensions continued regarding all what concerns power. It even led into armed conflicts and wars due to social, religious and intellectual regional motives. Each party or group is advancing its own vision for power while dismissing all the other proposed ones.

With this conflict, these social, religious, cultural and secular groups turn back to the heart of the problem; where Libya was established without any agreements or charts between the different social groups. Also, neither the relationship between religion and political-economic public life was determined nor the limits where the groups must not make use of religion for political ends were discussed. These limits were supposed to ban the employment of religion as a motive for individuals and groups in the conflict over power.

During all the period since the beginning of the uprising in February 2011 till now (June 2016), no serious dialogues or negotiations were held between the parties fighting over power. Hence, the conflict was very apparent in the elections of the National Congress in 2012 between the opponents of these elections, particularly the federalists, some Islamists and secularists in Barqa in the east of the country, and supporters of the elections such as politicized Islamists and social groups especially in Tripoli in the west of the country. Later, disagreements aggravated even within the National Congress, stemming from the roots of the first previous conflict.

Tending towards fighting, breaking opponents’ will and imposing points of views have became the most popular mechanisms even within the National Congress. Consequently, reappointment of its members and blocs has been done on a regional and religious basis.

Amongst the most important results of this struggle is the law of political isolation which was celebrated by Islamists and pro-February social groups in the west of Libya. On the other hand, it was dismissed by secularists and other pro-February social groups in Barqa. It was also rejected by inside and outside supporters of Gaddafi’s regime (they are social groups that allied with the latter during his dominance over Libya). The said law was also met with acceptance by regional powers while others expressed objection.  Moreover, the isolation law has also ousted hundreds of military officers who later adopted ‘the Dignity Operation’ led by one of the officers forwarded to retirement. Therefore, the military institution, supported by social groups in the east and west of the country and religious groups directed from outside Libya, has also participated in this movement.

It is now possible to say that the elections of 2012 and later of 2014 came as a result of pressures exerted by social, secular, religious and political groups. The first was in congress elections, especially by Islamists and social groups in the west of Libya who wanted the elections to be an end of the National Transitional Council that was dominated by others. Before that, the said groups had already managed to end the mandate of the executive office chaired by Mahmoud Jibril who was not only supported by secularists, social groups loyal to Gaddafi’s regime and traditional religious groups but also had alliance with regional powers. Henceforth, he was replaced by Abdurrahim El-Keib who is pro-Islamists and supported in the west of Libya particularly the capital Tripoli.

The same scene took place again in 2014 when secularists, their pro-social groups and other groups supporting Gaddafi’s regime; connected with regional alliances against the Islamists in Libya, managed to impose amendments on the Constitutional Declaration (issued by the National Transitional Council in August 2011)  attributed to the Islamists and social groups in the west of Libya. Such amendments resulted in the election of the assembly responsible for drafting the Permanent Libyan Constitution. Besides, another amendment led to the election of the House of Representatives where the number of Islamists declined especially with anti-Islamists insisted on moving the headquarters of the House of Representatives to the city of Tobruk in the far east of Libya.

However, Islamists and social groups that oppose the House of Representatives did not accept the results of the elections. Or, in other words, they did not politically accept it and sought to legally abort it. They were able to obtain a ruling from the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court in Tripoli. The ruling nullifies the amendments on the Constitutional Declaration which eventually led to the political, social and religious division which is now taking place in Libya.


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August 11, 2016