Under Mu’ammar Qadhafi’s rule in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was outlawed, and conducted most of its activity from abroad. Now that many of its members have returned to the country, the MB is beginning to consolidate its presence in the political arena and has established a party, called Justice and Construction. Like the MB party in Egypt, the Libyan party presented itself as independent of the movement; however, the connection between the party and movement, both on the ideological and the organizational level, is difficult to ignore. Party leader Muhammad Sowan previously served as the head of the movement’s Shura Council, and half of the party members are MB members.
The Libyan MB resembles the Egyptian movement also in its vision for Libya: It holds thatshari’a must be the primary source of legislation, while principles of democracy are supported. . It should be noted, however, that the Libyan MB has stressed that its ties with MB movements in other countries are strictly ideological.
This report will review the consolidation of the movement in Libya after its many years in exile, its first steps in the political arena, and its vision for the new Libyan state.
History of the Libyan MB
According to researcher Mahmoud Al-Nakou’, who was one of the founders of the Libyan MB in the 1960s, the movement got its first foothold in Libya in the late 1940s, when three members of the Egyptian MB – ‘Izz Al-Din Ibrahim, Mahmoud Al-Sharbini and Jallal Sa’da – escaped to Libya after being suspected of involvement in the assassination of Egyptian prime-minister Mahmoud Al-Nuqrashi Pasha. The three, who found asylum with Libyan Prince Idris Al-Sanousi, started to spread the movement’s ideas, and so did MB-affiliated teachers who came to teach in Libya. More MB activists came to Libya after the 1952 Free Officers Revolution in Egypt. According to Nakou’, following the political and ideological revival triggered by the 1967 war, MB followers established a branch of the movement in Tripoli. It was headed by Sheikh Fathallah Muhammad Ahwas, and another of its founders and leaders was Al-Nakou’ himself. A similar branch was founded in Benghazi. The two branches coordinated their positions, and operated in secret due to the law banning political activity. After the 1969 military coup and the rise to power of Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi, the MB organization in Libya stopped its activity, but did not disband. In 1973, many of the movement members were arrested, and were released two years later, when Qadhafi ordered the MB to stop its activity in Libya and expelled its leaders from the country.
The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran triggered an Islamic revival, not only in the Islamic world but also among Muslims living in Europe, the U.S. and Canada. As part of this revival, Libyan youths studying in these countries founded branches of the MB. Libyan youths in the U.S. established a branch called Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya, which published a journal called Al-Muslim, and maintained ties with other MB branches in the West, especially in America. In the 1980s, several of its members returned to Libya and renewed the movement’s activity there. In 1991, the Libyan MB elected a shura council, which chose one of its members as the movement’s general supervisor. During the 1990s, Islamist activity in Libya was met with waves of arrests, including of MB leaders.
The arrests ended in 2006, following intervention by Qadhafi’s son, Saif Al-Islam, who headed the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF). Reports claimed that the movement had struck a deal with the regime, promising to refrain from all political, social and organizational activity, in return for the release of its prisoners. This deal may also be the reason behind the MB’s decision to boycott the Libyan opposition conference held in London in 2005. The movement’s general supervisor at the time, Suleiman ‘Abd Al-Qadr, said that the movement had avoided participating in the conference because it wanted real reforms and practical solutions. The website of the global MB movement (ikhwanonline.net) claimed that the movement had boycotted the conference because it rejected some of the demands voiced there, mainly the demand for Qadhafi’s ouster, and also because the conference had been funded by foreign elements, to which the movement objected. The current general supervisor of the Libyan MB, Bashir Al-Kabti, denied having any connections with the Qadhafi regime. He explained that Qadhafi tried to instate Saif Al-Islam as his successor by means of a so-called “reform program,” but that the MB, which always demanded real political reforms in the country, did not to cooperate.
After Fall of Qadhafi Regime, Libyan MB Renews Activity, Consolidates Its Presence
In mid-November 2011, about a month after Qadhafi was captured and killed by the rebels, the MB held a conference in Benghazi – the first MB conference to take place in Libya in 20 years. The conference elected Bashir Al-Kabti as general supervisor of the MB in Libya, instead of Suleiman ‘Abd Al-Qadr, who had held this position for two terms. Al-Kabti, born in Benghazi and an accountant by profession, was head of the Libyan MB when it operated clandestinely, and spent 33 years in the U.S. He returned to Libya when the uprising against Qadhafi began. He will serve in this position for four years, with an option for a second term in office.
Libyan MB General Supervisor Bashir Al-Kabti
Upon his appointment, Al-Kabti told the paper Libya Al-Yawm that the Libyan MB is an integral part of Libyan society and took an active part in the revolution. He added that, two days before the uprising began, the movement’s shura council convened and decided to take part in the Libyan people’s campaign to change the regime, calling upon all MB members living abroad to return to Libya. According to Al-Kabti, the movement founded the aid organization Nida’ Al-Khayr, which managed to bring aid from the Gulf and Egypt into Libya, and also formed an alliance of 120 civil organizations in Benghazi. He said that the movement has participated in workshops on civil development in cooperation with the UN and Arab organizations, and has dealt with military-security issues and with maintaining security in Benghazi. Al-Kabti stressed, however, that “it was not the MB that staged the revolution, but the Libyan youth and Libyan people as a whole, acting out of national feeling and Islamic spirit, and setting a model of sacrifice.”
The Benghazi conference yielded several decisions aimed at consolidating the movement’s presence in Libya, after decades in which it operated mainly from abroad. The 700 participants decided to renew the activity of the shura council and to expand it from 11 members to 30, in addition to the general supervisor. It was also decided to establish a party.
Statements by the movement’s leaders reflect its desire to expand its influence in Libyan society. Al-Kabti said that the MB operates in the Libyan cities and plans to build centers there, stressing that Libya belongs to everyone. He added that the present (interim) stage has its own needs, that the MB is an integral part of this stage, and that “people must become acquainted with the role of civil society organizations.”
One month after the conference in Benghazi, the movement’s shura council convened, and took a series of decisions aimed at building up the MB and its institutions. It approved the establishment of an executive committee, with departments in charge of policy, media and public relations, economic affairs, women MB members, student affairs, cultural activity, da’wa, and finance. It also appointed two deputy general supervisors and a general secretariat, and approved a number of decisions taken at the Benghazi conference, including the appointment of a legal council. 
The visit to Benghazi by the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, who is close to the MB, may have been another step intended to strengthen the movement in Libya. Al-Qaradhawi, an enthusiastic supporter of the uprising in Libya, was invited by the Libyan authorities to attend an inter-Libyan reconciliation conference in Tripoli following Qadhafi’s ouster. Upon his arrival, he gave a sermon in a mosque in Benghazi (capital of the Libyan rebels), and met with MB leaders at a feast they held in his honor. He also visited Al-Tahrir square in central Benghazi, where he congratulated the residents and said that, with the collapse of the Qadhafi regime, Libya had “returned to its Islamic roots.” It should be mentioned that after the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, Al-Qaradhawi gave a sermon at Al-Tahrir square in Cairo, a step that many saw as an attempt by the MB to take over the Egyptian revolution.
Al-Qaradhawi’s sermon in Benghazi
Libyan MB Enters Political Arena, Forms “Justice and Construction” Party
On March 2-3, about three months after its Benghazi conference, the movement held another conference in Tripoli, attended by some 1,350 members of the MB and of other Islamic movements. At the conference, the movement announced the establishment of the Justice and Construction party, and of the party’s 45-member shura council and legal committee. As mentioned, the position of party head was given to Muhammad Hassan Sowan, who was imprisoned by the Qadhafi regime for his political activity. Twenty of the party’s shura council members have already been elected by secret ballot, and the other 25 are to be elected in regional ballots. Al-Amin Belhadj, an MB leader and a member of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), described Justice and Construction as a “national and civil” party with “an Islamic source of authority.”
The movement has repeatedly stressed that the Justice and Construction party is independent of the MB. At the end of the Benghazi conference, Al-Kabti said: “We have not formed a political party [of our own], but have only called upon our brothers in the [MB] movement and in all the [other] political streams to form a party with an Islamic source of authority… The party is to be independent of the [MB] movement in its policy, and the movement will not impose its patronage on the party or its members.” He added that all Libyans would be able to join the party, because its message, vision and goal would be shared by all. The MB shura council called upon all MB members to make contact with other forces who wished to form a party, and to create committees that would assist in forming a party independent of the MB. Muhammad Sowan likewise stressed that the party would be independent of the movement and “open to anyone who [meets] the criteria…” He added: “Had we wanted [to form] a party representing the MB alone, we would have limited it to members of the MB.”
Al-Kabti did not, however, deny his movement’s desire to become a major player in the political arena. In an interview with Libya Al-Yawm, he expressed hope that his movement would learn from the experience of the MB in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, which took part in the democratization process and won a majority in parliament. He added: “These Islamic [movements] are the ones that best express the outlook of the public, realize its expectations, and meet its wishes. The nightmare of dictatorship was a barrier [preventing] the people from expressing their real choice. Once granted liberty, transparency and freedom of choice, the people elected those whom they considered trustworthy, honest and loyal to the homeland.”
Founding conference of the Justice and Construction Party
Another indication of the MB’s entrance into party politics was its stance on the upcoming election for the Libyan National Assembly – a new 200-member legislative council that is to replace the NTC and draft a new constitution for Libya. The election is slated for June of this year. Originally, the NTC decided that 136 of the assembly’s members would run on closed party lists, while 64 would be elected directly. Later, the number of independent candidates was raised to 80. According to reports, the MB representatives in the NTC were among those who had supported the initial decision, according to which a relatively small number of candidates would run independently and a larger number would run on party lists. The Al-Manara website, which is affiliated with the Libyan MB, has posted many articles attacking the NTC for making the change.
Today, the MB is undoubtedly involved in Libyan politics, though the scope of its involvement is difficult to assess. According Al-Kabti, the MB took part in the debates over the founding of the NTC, and some of its members serve on this council. In addition, NTC members attended the MB assembly in Benghazi.
Banner at Benghazi conference bears MB logo, and underneath it the slogan
“Libya – Our Unity Shall Build It, Our Identity Shall Protect It”
MB Vision for Democratic-Islamic State
Like its Egyptian counterpart, the Libyan MB presents itself as a moderate Islamic movement that supports democracy, civil society and human rights, and at the same time sees Islam as the basis for legislation. That is, the movement supports the granting of rights as long as this does not contravene the precepts of Islam. Statements by the movement and its leaders leave unspecified how the principles of democracy are to be reconciled with those of Islam. Upon his appointment as general supervisor, Al-Kabti said that the Libyan MB advocates the establishment of “an Islamic civil state.” The closing statement of the Benghazi conference said that the movement advocates change “in accordance with the universal laws of Allah,” and recommends to bring it about “by safe and prudent steps, while denouncing all violence and [all] forms of extremism.” In a November 22, 2011 interview on Libya TV, which airs from Doha in Qatar, Al-Kabti stressed that his movement supports “political pluralism, inclusion, the separation of the powers, and media freedom,” but believes that legislation must not “contravene the principles of Islam.”
The Libyan MB’s Facebook page describes the movement’s vision for Libya as follows: “We, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, are a group of Muslims calling to [implement] the noble values and principles of Islam, as set out in the Koran, the Sunna and the reliable Prophetic [hadiths], which our ancient fathers upheld and called [to follow]. Islam entails strong faith, clear and moderate shari’a, an agreed-upon understanding of the [Islamic] texts, and a clear interpretation of [Islam’s] general principles that preserves the essence of the texts while meeting the demands of reality. Our way in serving Islam is to call for wisdom, good da’wa, and serious and constructive dialogue, to identify the people’s concerns, touch their suffering and sympathize with their problems. Preaching virtue is one of our most important duties. We shall invest the majority of our efforts in the obligation to fight corruption, by warning, guiding and educating [the people], and without [resorting to] extremism.
“The Muslim Brotherhood believes that the laws and directives of Islam encompass [all] the people’s affairs and regulate them, in this world and the next… Islam is the faith of all Libyans. We do not believe that [our] movement or the Islamic stream have a monopoly over it. We do not claim to understand it or to uphold it better than others. We follow the path of the first [Muslims] in our approach, and invest efforts in implementing [Islam] and teaching it to others in its purest form, so that they can shelter in its beneficial shadow… [We do] this by calling to do good…
“Among our chief goals… is to take part in building a new generation of Muslims who believe in the directives of the true Islam… Our main means [in achieving this] is educating people by the light of these directives and principles. A good Muslim is [a person] honest and pure of heart, who works for the good of others and for the good of his country and people. That is the movement’s chief concern. The first step in [realizing] this approach is improving the religious, moral, social, cultural, political and economic state [of our society]. Reform cannot be implemented without [the help of] honest, active, positive[-thinking] reformists who are qualified to serve the people and the homeland… The Muslim Brotherhood believes that trusting in Allah is the source of all success.”
On the issue of human rights, the movement’s Facebook page states: “We regard the values of freedom, justice and human rights as the backbone of religion, as long as [these principles] do not contravene the steadfast [precepts] of our faith… We call [to implement them] and support all efforts aimed at strengthening them.” 
It is difficult to predict what chance the Libyan MB stands to win a majority in the National Assembly elections, as it is unclear where it has power bases within Libyan society. It must be remembered that the Libyan identity is a complex one, comprising elements of tribal and geographic loyalties, while the country lacks a well-established political culture as a result of the Qadhafi-era ban on political parties.
If the MB succeeds in attaining a majority in the elections, it remains to be seen how it will combine Islamic precepts with democratic principles in the country’s new constitution, and how this will be implemented in daily life. Moreover, whoever wins a majority in the elections will face a complex challenge, entailing restoring order and security in Libya’s streets and establishing a central government to the satisfaction of its citizens.
B. Chernitsky is a research fellow at MEMRI.
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