Libya: A Controversy Around an Anti-Ibadi Fatwa

Libya has multiple governments and as such it has multiple poles of would-be official religious authority. One such body is the Supreme Committee for Issuing Fatwas (Al-Lajna al-‘Ulya li-l-Ifta’) connected to the Libyan Interim Government. That government is based in the northeastern city Al-Bayda and is associated with Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Committee kicked off a tremendous controversy by issuing a fatwa (Arabic) that denounces the Ibadis, a non-Sunni, non-Shi’i Muslim sect prevalent in Oman and with a small but significant presence in parts of North and East Africa. The fatwa comes in response to a question about the permissibility of praying behind an Ibadi imam – effectively, a question about whether Ibadis should be considered genuine Muslims or not. The response reads, “Ibadism is a deviant, misguided sect. They are Kharijite Batinists. They hold infidel beliefs, such as their belief that the Qur’an is a created object, and their belief in denying that we will see [God in Paradise], so do not pray behind them and don’t esteem them.”

For context, “Kharijites” is a pejorative term that can refer to a specific early Islamic sect but that also can be used widely as a term of abuse. Describing the intricacies of the historical relationships between Ibadism and Kharijism is, I think, a task best left to specialists, so I won’t attempt it here. “Batinism,” meanwhile, is used here as a pejorative term meaning people who claim to see hidden messages in the Qur’an.

Turning back to the fatwa’s reception, negative reactions came immediately from Libyan Amazigh/Bergers, who saw the fatwa not just as a religious provocation but an ethnic one. Ibadism is sometimes associated with the Amazigh in Libya and vice versa. The Amazigh Supreme Council called the fatwa “a direct incitement for a genocide of the Amazigh people in Libya.” (Read a little background on the Ibadis in Libya here.)

Another negative reaction came from a rival governmental religious body, the Dar al-Ifta’ (House of Issuing Fatwas), whose legal status under the Government of National Accord is now somewhat unclear (it’s been reportedly shut down, but it’s still issuing statements). Although the Dar al-Ifta’ and Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Gharyani have a reputation in many quarters as divisive and even extremist, in this context the Dar al-Ifta’ presented itself as a non-sectarian force working for Libyan unity. In a statement (Arabic), Dar al-Ifta’ denounced the “sectarian chaos that simple-minded idiots and youngsters are trying to ignite among the Muslim citizenry.” (See also here.)

Other Libyan commentators have seen the fatwa as evidence of creeping Salafism/Wahhabism (Arabic) in Libya – for all that the eastern Libyan government and the forces of Haftar are often seen as anti-Islamist and even “secular,” there is a strong Salafi influence on those bodies.

Those are just a few of the reactions in an ongoing domestic controversy. It will be interesting to see whether the pressure and criticism elicit any changes on the part of the Supreme Committee or the eastern government.

IRIN on Boko Haram’s Impact on Diffa, Niger – and a Few Other Resources

IRIN has a new article, well worth a read, on Boko Haram’s impact on Diffa, southeastern Niger. An excerpt:

In the latest attack on 2 July, the jihadists raided the village of Ngalewa, near Kablewa, killing nine and abducting 37 – all of them young girls and adolescent boys. The gunmen, arriving at night, looted food supplies and rustled cattle, before escaping.

[…]

Diffa Governor Dan Dano Mahamadou Lawaly has ordered the transfer of the 16,500 IDPs in Kablewa to a new camp a few kilometres north of Route National 1, the road running to the Chadian border in the east.

South of the highway is seen as vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram, an insurgency originating in Nigeria but believed to be operating in Niger from largely abandoned islands in Lake Chad.

Boko Haram’s strategy appears to be to grab what supplies it can ahead of the rainy season, when rising water levels will make crossing the Komadugu River – which flows along the southern border with Nigeria – all the harder.

Here are a few additional resources on the situation in Diffa:

Mali: New Developments Around the Referendum

The Malian government hopes to hold a constitutional referendum that would increase presidential powers and would create a Senate. Initially, the referendum’s path ran smooth: on June 3 (French), the National Assembly voted 111-35 approving the proposed text, and on June 6 (French), the Constitutional Court affirmed the constitutionality of the text. But then opposition parties and civil society activists mounted significant protests against the idea – enough to prompt the Malian government to postpone the referendum indefinitely.

Now, it looks like the referendum will re-travel the same circuit. With the opposition formally challenging the constitutionality of the referendum, the Constitutional Court weighed in again (French). This time, once more, the court upheld the basic constitutionality of the proposed referendum. The court rejected the opposition’s argument that because of widespread insecurity in northern and central Mali, the country lacks the territorial integrity that the 1992 constitution makes a necessary condition for holding any such vote. However, the court did accept the opposition’s arguments on other points – noting, for example (French), that the proposed referendum text does not state the tenure of certain senators. Two-thirds of the proposed senators will be elected and will serve five years, but the text does not currently say how long the one-third who are appointed by the president will serve. To rectify the omission, the court has returned the text to the National Assembly for redrafting. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has said he is committed to the passage of the referendum.

If the legal issues are partly resolved, the political conflict is not. The opposition remains committed to defeating the referendum – preferably, for the opposition, by preventing it from coming to a vote at all. To that effect, the anti-referendum coalition is planning (French) “a national march, a sit-in in front of the Constitutional Court, a series of meetings with the accredited diplomatic corps in Mali, ‘dead city days’ [i.e., general strikes], and civil disobedience.”

Brief Notes on Senegal’s Upcoming Legislative Elections

On July 30, Senegal will hold legislative elections to fill 165 seats in the unicameral National Assembly, including 15 seats to represent the Senegalese diaspora. Legislators serve five-year terms. The elections come between the 2012 presidential election and the 2019 presidential election, and as such they are the field of considerable maneuvering in advance of the 2019 contest. These elections are also the first to follow the 2016 referendum that brought various changes to Senegal’s political system. Most relevant to these legislative elections are “amendments [that] encourage even more party splintering, since the new constitution reduces barriers to independent candidacy.”

As Jeune Afrique (French) explains, before the official campaign began on May 30/31, there were initially two major coalitions of parties: Benno Bokk Yakaar (United in Hope), associated with incumbent President Macky Sall and the current parliamentary majority, and the opposition coalition Manko Taxawu Sénégal.

Within the opposition, however, disagreements (French) about who should head the coalition’s list caused a split, resulting in the formation of a major splinter group called Coalition gagnante Wattu Sénégal, with a list headed by former President Abdoulaye Wade. The remnants of Manko Taxawu Sénégal put forth a list headed by Khalifa Sall, mayor of the capital Dakar – who remains in jail, in a case I discussed here. Khalifa Sall’s key ally in the coalition is former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck.

Meanwhile, Benno Bokk Yakaar’s list (French) is headed by current Prime Minister Mohammed Dionne. BBY also includes veteran politicians such as Ousmane Tanor Dieng of the Socialist Party* and Moustapha Niasse, current president of the National Assembly and head of the Alliance of the Forces of Progress. The international Francophone press largely expects BBY to win, given the opposition’s internal divisions and BBY’s big tent. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what Wade is like in parliament, and also to see whether Khalifa Sall’s partisans are successful not just in getting him elected, but in getting him freed.

*Khalifa Sall is the leader of a dissident wing of the Socialist Party.

 

 

On 1967 and Islamism

Earlier this month, the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War evoked some great writing, including a piece by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution. His piece is entitled “The end of Nasserism: How the 1967 War opened new space for Islamism in the Arab world.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into the words “Arab world” in the title, because Hamid focuses on Egypt, but at the regional level, I question the idea that 1967 was the turning point or even that 1967 was a major factor in trajectories of Islamism in some Arab countries.

Here is Hamid:

When Nasser, and by extension Egypt, lost, there was relatively little left to say. The starting premise of Arab nationalism had been fatally undermined, 15 years into the 1952 revolution…When Nasser died in 1970 at the age of 52, millions of Egyptians gathered to mourn him in a six-mile procession. It was perhaps the last unifying moment in Egypt’s modern history, before the resurgence of Islamism—and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood—opened up a new fault line in Egyptian society.

The first point to make is that Egypt does not equal the Arab world. If 1967 marked the end of Nasserism, why did not just one but three leaders clearly inspired by Nasser come to power after 1967? The three leaders were Muammar al-Qadhafi of Libya, Ja’far al-Numayri of Sudan, and Muhammad Siad Barre of Somalia (a member of the Arab League), all of whom came to power in coups in 1969. True, each of them had a unique relationship with Islam, and al-Numayri embraced Islamism by the late 1970s, but it is significant that multiple leaders in the Arab world were vying for Nasser’s mantle after 1967 and even after Nasser’s death in 1970. If Egypt followed a certain trajectory, that does not mean that Egypt set the pace for the whole region.

The second point to make is that key figures associated with with the “Islamist resurgence” were already up and coming before the 1967 war. The best example is Egypt’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1926), who published his influential Al-Halal wa-l-Haram fi al-Islam (The Licit and the Prohibited in Islam) in 1960. Another example is Sudan’s Hasan al-Turabi (1932-2016), who first came to prominence in Sudan’s 1964 revolution. The point here is that after 1967, many of the leading figures were not converts from Arab nationalism to Islamism, but rather people who had been Islamists all along. Certainly the events of 1967 put them in a position to amplify their message, but that might tell us more about the relationship between Islamism and crises than it does about 1967 specifically. Moreover, much of the infrastructure of contemporary Islamism was built after 1967, but key components of that infrastructure were built before 1967.

Third, whatever impact 1967 had, it was not necessarily immediate, and it was only in combination with other factors. When we look at where Islamists actually came to power or nearly came to power, two of the most prominent cases occurred over two decades later – Sudan 1989, and Algeria 1991-1992. And in both of those cases, it was largely domestic factors that brought Islamists to the forefront.

I don’t want to understate the psychological, political, and spiritual impact of 1967 on the Arab world. But I don’t think 1967 was the watershed moment for Islamism in the entire region. Rather, I think that the trajectories of Islamism in the Arab world have been highly divergent, and that some of the most successful Islamist movements in the region were in countries much less affected by the 1967 defeat than Egypt was.

My last thought is a somewhat simplistic one, and it concerns Egypt itself. If 1967 was “the end of Nasserism,” then why has the Egyptian military regime been so enduring, so strong, since 1952? Perhaps the revolutionary aura and the Arab nationalist ideology fell away after 1967, but it still seems to me that Nasser and the Free Officers created a system that remains partly (largely?) in place to this day. Put even more simply: no Nasser, no Sisi. Viewed in that light, the Muslim Brotherhood’s ups and downs in Egypt since 1928 have only really brought it close to controlling the actual levers of the state on a few occasions and only allowed it to partially grasp those levers during one brief period. There have also been multiple moments of “resurgence” for the Brotherhood, just as there have been multiple moments of repression, disarray, and weakness. So was 1967 a turning point, or was it just one of several key moments in a long cycle – a cycle that always ends with military men in power?

Recent Journalism on Boko Haram

A few recent journalists’ articles on Boko Haram caught my eye, and probably those of many readers as well. But in case you missed them, here they are.

Sarah Topol, “The Boys from Baga,” New York Times Magazine. An excerpt:

The rhythm of camp life enveloped the new abductees. Activity was concentrated around the palace, everyone working to fortify the heart of the base against the Nigerian military, which periodically probed their defenses, trying to retake Malam Fatori. Boko Haram had declared itself a caliphate and pledged its alliance to ISIS. A tug of war for the arid earth had ensued. Every morning, the deputy emirs, whose units lived in the surrounding villages to protect the center, would come to greet the babban emir, entering his building for a private audience. Directives from Shekau may have been conveyed by satellite phone. There was coordination with the other babban emirs as well, but the boys of Malam Fatori never interacted with neighboring fiefs. Though Boko Haram was hierarchal, it was also fragmented, each division preoccupied with ensuring its own survival.

In the morning, groups set out on patrol in their trucks, checking the areas around Malam Fatori for traces of movement overnight — new tire prints, footsteps or animal tracks. Mustapha would quietly accompany the insurgents on patrol. He wanted to see how everything worked. Throughout the day, women who had been captured from nearby towns cooked food, which the insurgents ate from communal troughs. At night, the boys could sleep in any room in the palace compound, so long as it wasn’t in a room where women were kept. They barely prayed, and no one knew what day it was — only Fridays stood out, because on that day, they were fed rice with meat stew.

Le Monde‘s Joan Tilouine is releasing a five-part series (in French) of reporting from Maiduguri. Here are links for parts one, two, three, and four. I found the first part, about life in Maiduguri, the most interesting. Unfortunately, these reports are paywalled.

Libyan National Army Slowly Conquering Benghazi

Back in January, I wrote about the Libyan National Army (LNA)’s slow territorial conquest of Benghazi. The LNA is the military force commanded by Khalifa Haftar, an ex-Qadhafi general turned eastern Libyan warlord (and recently profiled by Mattia Toaldo here). As of January, two main neighborhoods in Benghazi remained outside the LNA’s control: Suq al-Hout and Sabiri/Sabri.

Over the weekend, the LNA took much of Suq al-Hout. The slow speed of the advance is partly due to the numerous land mines (Arabic) and improvised explosive devices in the remaining neighborhoods. The LNA has launched numerous airstrikes targeting both Suq al-Hout and al-Sabiri (Arabic).

Haftar’s military enemies in eastern Libya appear to be weakening. Inside Benghazi, jihadist groups like the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council are losing territory and fighters. Meanwhile, as Reuters notes, the anti-Haftar Companies for Defending Benghazi/Benghazi Defense Brigades, a force based outside Benghazi, are now stating their willingness to “disband and be integrated into national security forces.” Al Jazeera (Arabic) adds that the Companies are accusing France and the United Arab Emirates of pressuring the United States government to declare the Companies a foreign terrorist organization, i.e. to blacklist them. (I’ve explained, here, why I think it’s simplistic to consider the Companies a part of al-Qaida.)

With the Companies unable to mount a successful offensive against the LNA in Benghazi and with the LNA slowly expanding its control of the city, Haftar’s position there – and in eastern Libya generally – is looking stronger and stronger.