Splits between jihadists and less extreme Islamists are appearing in Benghazi, cradle of the Libyan uprising, as jihadists achieve success on the ground and the Islamists try to organise, analysts say.
Islamists of good standing, seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood, set the ball rolling on Saturday by announcing the formation of a shura or consultative council to “find solutions to the problems of the city” of Benghazi in eastern Libya.
A ripost came immediately from the “Shura of Benghazi Revolutionaries”, comprising jihadist groups among others, asserting that it “does not recognise” the new body.
“They took advantage while we were busy on the war front, ignoring the true mujahedeen,” the Shura of Benghazi Revolutionaries said in a statement.
The jihadists, including Ansar al-Sharia, a group rated by Washington as a “terrorist organisation”, say they were marginalised by the General National Congress (GNC) which ran the country after the fall of long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
They see the new Benghazi council as an attempt by the Islamists, who had been well represented on the GNC, to regain the initiative after winning fewer seats in the new Libyan parliament.
“Plots like those at the start of the revolution won’t succeed,” the jihadists warned the members of the new Benghazi council.
The members said in a document establishing the council, a copy of which AFP has seen, that they want to “help Benghazi municipality” get the city running properly again.
They urged “support for the security and justice services… a ban on violence and extremism, and the adoption of democracy, the principle of civilian government and of peaceful changeover at the head of institutions”.
The members of the new shura also proclaimed their belief in “freedom of expression (and) the right to demonstrate peacefully on condition of not disrupting public services or affecting the safety of the town and its inhabitants”.
– Jihadists against democracy –
“It is the start of a dispute between advocates of political Islam and jihadists,” said political analyst Saad Najm, who believes the key rift line concerns the principle of democracy.
“The jihadists control 80 percent of Benghazi city” after driving out forces loyal to dissident general Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive against them on May 16, said Mohammad al-Assani, a military analyst and former officer.
They formed their “Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries” on June 20, more than a month after the start of Haftar’s campaign, which only served to highlight their hold on the city where they control the main army bases and the security forces.
No regular troops or police have been seen in Benghazi for weeks, and the justice system there has broken down.
Jihadists engage in near-daily skirmishes with Haftar’s forces, who have fallen back to the south of the city.
“It is the end of the honeymoon between Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood tendency and the jihadists, who are against democracy and the civil state,” said political analyst Ezzedine al-Borussi.
“The Islamists who failed to win the parliamentary elections on June 25 will pay the price for their previous support of the jihadists who do not believe in democracy,” said another analyst, Nasser Assamin.
“We won’t fight for democracy or for the return of parliament to Benghazi but for the triumph of God’s word and to defend our land and our honour,” the jihadists said in their statement.
For security reasons, the new Libyan parliament is meeting in Tobruk, east of Benghazi and 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, although the provisional constitution proposed that it should convene in Benghazi.