After months of chaos and terror, the assassination of army officers, including two military intelligence chiefs, of police officers, journalists and members of the judiciary, the armed Libyan forces are now pushing back.
The victims all had one thing in common: opposition to an accelerating Islamist takeover of Benghazi. And this is not to mention the kidnapping of diplomats; the harassment and occasional killing of foreigners (of Egyptians in particular).
The Islamist bid to take over has been advanced by an informal and uniquely Libyan broad Islamist front ranging from the Brotherhood and its militias to the takfirist-jihadist militias that include al-Qaeda elements. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged this past year as the dominant force in the General National Congress (GNC), despite its failure to secure a majority in the elections of the GNC, by virtue of skillful political maneuver and the rampant disarray among the liberal and nationalist deputies .
All of this has transpired under the eyes of a central government and a legislature (the GNC) whose actions range from impotence and ineptitude to – most recently –complicity.
Armed push back
The armed push back, which has taken as its name that of the National Libyan Army, (NLA) is under the command of retired General Khalifa Haftar - who broke with Qaddafi and went into exile in the United States for a number of years, returning to Libya when the uprising began in late February 2011 and was named as commander of rebel forces in Benghazi.
This crisis has stripped off the skimpy cloth that concealed the Muslim Brotherhood – the takfirst-jihadist militia allianceAbdallah Schleifer
According to Alaa al-Amari, the British Libyan economist turned journalist whose reports have appeared in The Guardian and The Nation (a U.S. weekly), this is a “rare nexus of Muslim Brotherhood and more violent Islamist tendencies.” Amari is convinced that the tipping point that has brought a still growing number of Libyan Army units (the Libyan Special Forces, several air bases and the commander of the Air Force) out in support of Gen. Haftar this past week in defiance of their chief of staff was the clouded procedure in the election by the Libyan parliament of an alleged Muslim Brother sympathizer as acting prime minister, and the assassination of Ibrahim al-Senoussi the most recent head of the military intelligence branch.
Senoussi was killed one day after he was interviewed in a live broadcast on a TV channel; he warned that a massive Islamist conspiracy with individuals in the Libyan government, military, police and the Qatari and Turkish intelligence services in alliance with the Islamist militias operating in Benghazi and in other parts of Libya were responsible for the wave of assassinations, kidnappings as well as attacks on foreign embassies. That Muslim Brotherhood militias were cooperating with the more extreme jihadist militias like Ansar al-Sharia and this alliance of militias with different Islamist tendencies was at the core of what Senoussi described as an Islamist conspiracy.
Global news reporting
But most of the global news reporting on Libya has been on par with the curiously shallow coverage that characterized global media a year ago during the tumultuous months of June, July , August and September when smooth, Western educated Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen in Cairo seemed to trump, as objects of journalistic concern, the church-burning, police-murdering pro-Mursi gangs operating in the countryside.
Few of the reports describing the opening phase of Operation Libyan Dignity when Haftar’s NLA attacked the bases of Ansar al-Sharia mentioned that the group is the well-armed takfirist-jihadist militia responsible for most of the assassinations and implicated in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of the American ambassador.
The NLA also struck at the Islamist Feb. 17th Martyrs Brigade which deserve credit for having initiated the Islamist militias’ habit of assassinating anti-Islamist army officers. While the uprising against Qaddafi was still underway, the Feb 17th militia first detained and then killed Major General Abdul Fatah Younis, a high ranking general in Qaddafi’s army who had defected to the revolutionary forces in the first days of the uprising when he was sent by Qaddafi to crush the Rebels in Benghazi. Younis was then appointed commander of revolutionary forces by the Rebel political leadership. By that time, Haftar had returned to Libya and was appointed by Younis as his chief of staff. No doubt the unpunished killing of his commander led to Haftar’s retirement and his strong conviction that the Islamist militias were murderous threats to law, order and any hope of a pluralistic society.
Aside from al-Amari, reporters for Bloomberg News and perhaps a few other journalists, most foreign news organizations have described Haftar as “the renegade General” rather than as the “retired General” – a phrase they no doubt picked up from a smooth English-language spokesman for the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (just as they picked up equivalent phrases from Egyptian Brotherhood spokesmen last summer).
But neither the head of Libya’s Special Forces nor the commander of the Libyan air force think of General Haftar as a renegade. They think of him as the commander of the army in which they now serve.
This crisis has stripped off the skimpy cloth that concealed the Muslim Brotherhood – the takfirst-jihadist militia alliance. Those elements in the government, the army and parliament who are a party to that alliance have now called upon the Islamist militias in Misrata to come to Benghazi and fight the NLA.
According to the murdered military intelligence chief al-Sennousi’s account, if the Islamist militias and the Brotherhood political leadership take over the country, Libya will quickly become a training base for a “Free Egyptian Army” with Egyptian, Sudanese and Iraqi Brotherhood and jihadist fighters flocking to Libya to enroll in its ranks. This crisis is not just a Libyan crisis – it is one of regional proportions.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.