Brotherhood manoeuvres in Libya

Ahmed Kamel Al-Beheiri
Thursday 20 May 2021

The Libyan Muslim Brotherhood’s rebranding as the Revival and Renewal Association is a tactical manoeuvre and not an ideological shift

In a not-so-surprising development, the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya has changed its name to the Revival and Renewal Association, according to a statement the group released on 1 May. The reason, it said, was “to revive the call to adhere to a moderate approach and the teachings of Islam,” adding that the decision was made after the group’s 10th and 11th conferences and following rounds of talks and workshops.

The move had been anticipated for the past six months due to successive crises within the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and its political wing represented by the Justice and Construction Party. The group wanted a facelift that would help it to resolve its internal dilemmas. 

Despite the Turkish and Qatari political and financial support the group and its political party have been receiving over recent years, in addition to their making available media outlets that adopt their vision, the role of the Brotherhood on the Libyan domestic stage and in the region has continued to plummet. That is in addition to the rifts that have been wrecking the group from within.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Libya has not made achievements that have earned it continuous support. On the contrary, it has become a burden and a source of problems for regional countries, without bringing any gains to its supporters. For this reason, the group resorted to the new technique of changing its name in an attempt to resolve some of its crises on the domestic front.

There have been six predicaments afflicting the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and leading it to rename itself the Revival and Renewal Association.

First, internal crises began to snowball with the group resignation of Justice and Construction Party members in Misrata in October 2020. These then decided to disband the group’s branch in the city west of the Libyan capital Tripoli and to continue working in civil-society institutions. They said that their resignation had been the result of “the group’s procrastination, disruption and delays in implementing revisions that are commensurate with the requirements of the day and that were approved at the group’s 10th conference in 2015 by an absolute majority in line with the national interest.” 

The incident gained in significance because Misrata is a main stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and the Justice and Construction Party. The majority of Libyan Brotherhood leaders hail from Misrata, including Sadiq Al-Ghariani, head of the Justice and Construction Party Mohamed Sawan, figurehead leader Abdel-Rahman Al-Swehli, Minister of the Interior Fathi Bashagha, and many leaders of armed militias.

Second, there have been Turkey’s attempts to reformulate its relationship with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Sawan said in early May that changing the name of the group was crucial to rebuilding its structure and vision in order that it would be able to cope with domestic, regional and international developments. His statement can be interpreted within the context of Turkey’s desired rapprochement with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which will reflect on the relationship between Ankara and the Muslim Brotherhood, including the branch in Libya. 

The decision to change the Libyan group’s name was thus a tactic designed in Ankara, where the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and the former grand mufti of Libya resides. The rebranding, therefore, was meant to relabel the group as a charitable association, instead of a political group affiliated to the international organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Third, the group’s popularity has waned in many areas of Libya of late, leading several members from Zawiya to the west of Tripoli to resign in August 2020 and disband the local branch. Chairman of the Libyan Supreme State Council Khaled Al-Mashri also submitted his resignation a year ago. Group resignations have taken place in many southern Libyan regions as well, leading to the further dwindling of the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood with the approach of parliamentary and presidential elections in Libya.

This was confirmed in a leaked audio recording of a conversation between Sawan and a leading figure in the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, in which he expressed his fear that the group would lose sovereign positions in the country. Sawan talked about plans to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood maintained its control over the Libyan central bank and other leading positions in the coming years. 

He added that losing control of these would compromise the future of the Brotherhood and the Justice and Construction Party in the forthcoming Libyan parliamentary and presidential elections, especially given the increasing public anger in Libya over deteriorating economic, political and security conditions that prompted the Libyan people to go out onto the streets of Tripoli to demonstrate against the government and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fourth, the recent rise in the influence of the Salafi current at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Libyan public sphere and the increase in the number of local Salafi associations have weakened the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood. This is in addition to the strong relationship between Salafi groups and tribes in eastern and southern Libya that has given popular leverage to the Salafi movement as a result of the large network of services granted through its many civil-society associations and religious institutions. 

Furthermore, Salafi religious discourse is now extensively broadcast over many media outlets in Libya, along with social media and satellite channels, and the movement is heavily present in mosques. Another reason the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya was motivated to change its name was to allow it to focus on offering services and preaching to create a popular base that would serve the Justice and Construction Party on the political and electoral levels. This was evident in the group’s statement, which confirmed that the new association would fulfil its mission in society through “tireless work” in various fields.

Fifth, the group has tried to open new communication channels with Egypt, and its change of name is designed to make it appear that it has disassociated itself from the international organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Abdel-Razzak Sarqan, a member of the Justice and Construction Party, told the Anadolu News Agency on 2 May that the group had decided to work uniquely in the domestic field, causing it to change its name to the Revival and Renewal Association. It was not affiliated to any organisation outside Libya or to the international organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, he said.

As a result, the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya is trying to pass on a message to Egypt and to some regional and European countries that it has structurally disassociated itself from the international organisation, hoping that this will help it in advancing on new political tracks with these parties and particularly with Egypt.

Sixth, the group is seeking a rapprochement with the West and especially with France after many European countries have begun to view the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya as an extremist group as a result of the involvement of many of its leaders in battles dubbed the “Libyan Dawn” that saw violations against civilians. Moreover, the group has been trying to cover up the movement of militias and extremist groups in Libya, and at times it has provided them with political and financial support. This prompted it to emphasise in its 1 May announcement that the renaming was based on its belief that “the civilised gateway to change and renaissance is community work and contributing to the establishment of a civil society [in Libya] that is not restricted in terms of diversity.”

These factors show that the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya’s decision to rebrand itself as the Revival and Renewal Association is a tactical manoeuvre rather than an ideological or strategic shift and is intended as a way of repositioning itself in the west and east of the country and of offering public services in order to stand up against the Salafi tide in Libyan society. The move also comes at a time of popular discontent in Libya with the Islamists, whom the majority of Libyans blame for the chaos that has been engulfing the country since the fall of the former Gaddafi regime in 2011. 

The writer is an expert on terrorism at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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