Piece for Responsible Statecraft on Changing Post-Coup Norms

The Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft asked me to expand a bit on my post here the other day about the lengthening tenures of ostensibly transitional West African military regimes. My piece for Responsible Statecraft is here. An excerpt:

American policymakers should not get comfortable with military regimes. If harsh sanctions and threats do not work (ECOWAS tried a sweeping sanctions package for Mali and then backed down when it did not sway the junta), neither should American policymakers fool themselves into thinking that a given autocrat is some vital ally on another priority. The African autocrats who survived the “third wave of democracy” did so because they partnered closely with Washington, Paris, or some other major power.

At the moment, American-Russian (and American-Chinese) competition and the African versions of the “War on Terror” have both led American policymakers to accept certain African leaders’ abuses — sometimes for decades, as in the case of Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986. The tradeoffs are not worth it, including reputationally, when American backing becomes closely linked with a ruler’s anti-democratic behavior and human rights abuses.

Changing Post-Coup/Transition Norms in West Africa?

I think I’ve made this point elsewhere (can’t remember where), but yesterday’s roundup on Burkina Faso reminded me of it, in the context of discussing the visit by an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation to Ouagadougou. The point is this: ECOWAS seems now to be comfortable with (or reluctantly acquiescing to) two-year transitions, which differ from the previous expectation in two ways – the length (eighteen months) and the precision (“two years” can date from a more or less arbitrary point that is not necessarily when a given junta took power).

The coups in Mali (August 2020, May 2021), Guinea (September 2021), and Burkina Faso (January 2022) all upended business as usual in West Africa and confronted France, ECOWAS, the United States and other external actors with a major dilemma – how much pressure to apply to coup-makers, and to what end? The “gold standard” for an orderly post-coup transition, in the West African regional context, appears to be the fourteen-month transition in Niger in 2010-2011, and ECOWAS (with French backing) sought to enforce a standard of eighteen months. But intransigence from Mali in particular forced ECOWAS into negotiating. Sometimes ECOWAS negotiated in a tough way, as when ECOWAS imposed sweeping sanctions on Mali from January-July 2022 in response to the junta’s proposal for a transition that could have lasted through 2026. Yet even at its toughest-minded, ECOWAS was always negotiating at a disadvantage – ECOWAS is not, I think, going to physically force any junta from power, and I think the juntas all know that. So the end result – and here the juntas watch each other, clearly – is an adjusting of the norms in the ways I described above. Mali’s junta ended up getting sanctions lifted by offering a “two-year” transition plan (but dating from March 2022, meaning that March 2024 will in fact mark three and a half years since the junta took power) and Burkina Faso’s junta now appears to be on the same page as ECOWAS about a “two-year” transition plan (dating from July 2022, giving that junta as much as thirty months in power – not a far cry from what it demanded originally).

(ECOWAS’ mediation/negotiation efforts with Guinea – the new mediator [French] is former Beninese President Boni Yayi – are still ongoing.)

If one thinks that Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso are part of an “epidemic” of West African (or African) coups and if one expects that “epidemic” to claim further victims – I’m ambivalent on both questions – then the next question is what expectations the Malian and Burkinabè experiences set up for potential coup-makers elsewhere in the region. Again, I’m not necessarily expecting any more coups in the short term, but any aspiring West African coup-makers now know that they can likely expect at least thirty months in power. Depending on how one reads their motivations – and especially if one is ultra-cynical and sees coup-makers as primarily there for their own enrichment and empowerment – then the incentives are clear. That ultra-cynical view is a bit too strong for me; I think it’s hard to get in the mind of Assimi Goïta (Mali) or Paul-Henri Damiba (Burkina Faso) and separate what may be, on the one hand, their legitimate frustrations over insecurity, civilian corruption and fecklessness, and pressures from below from their own soldiers versus, on the other hand, more self-serving motivations. But even if one sees these officers as heroes (I don’t), the coup/transition combo itself becomes something different depending on the length of time it lasts. Fourteen months, eighteen months…that’s hitting a reset button on the country’s politics, for better or worse. Thirty months, forty-two months…that’s a full-blown military regime. The pendulum has not, I think, swung back to where it was in the 1980s (Mauritania 1984, Burkina Faso 1987, Chad 1990) or earlier, when a coup-maker could expect to come into power and stay there practically indefinitely, perhaps with the occasional rigged election or cabinet reshuffle to placate various foreign and domestic stakeholders. But the pendulum has certainly swung a bit in that direction versus where it was a decade ago, when coup-makers had a lot more trouble making their rule stick – including in Mali (2012) and Guinea (2008).

Mali and Burkina Faso: ECOWAS Kicks the Can to July

On June 4, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held an extraordinary summit in Accra, Ghana, to discuss the situations – i.e., the military juntas – in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. Tension between ECOWAS and Mali’s junta are particularly severe, and ECOWAS imposed country-level, sweeping economic sanctions in January 2022 in an effort to pressure the Malian junta to set a rapid timetable for holding elections and handing over power to civilians.

In its communiqué from the summit, ECOWAS had a few qualified words of praise for the Burkinabè junta, but took no major decisions, electing to maintain the sanctions on Mali and revisit the situations in all three countries at the next ordinary summit scheduled for July 3.

There’s a fair amount being reported about intra-ECOWAS divisions on how to proceed, especially with Mali. RFI calls Niger, Ghana, Gambia, and to some extent Nigeria the hardliners, in other words the really pro-sanctions crowd. Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire are, or at least as of early May reportedly were, also in the pro-sanctions camp. There is also a lot online about the role of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, who is now formally mediating between Mali and ECOWAS; I’m having trouble cutting through the speculation to find what’s reliable, but there is a lot of speculation that Togo is open to a much softer line on Mali. For whatever it’s worth, his tweet about the summit spoke of “stability and peace” rather than, say, “democracy.”

Good Articles on U.S. Africa Policy by Eric Silla and Jon Temin

Dr. Eric Silla of the National War College and Jon Temin of Freedom House have both recently published good articles on U.S. Africa policy. Reading them, I realized that I have a basic test for whether a piece on Africa policy is substantive or not – does the author make any serious criticism of existing policy, beyond (a) arguing that Africa should be a higher priority in Washington in general* and (b) proposing some addition to existing policies? In other words, does the author disagree concretely with some element of the (largely static) Africa policy in framework in Washington? There are, after all, a ton of pieces titled something like “Rethinking U.S. Africa Policy,” but a lot of them are fluff, even if they say generic things I agree with like “don’t cozy up to authoritarians” and “don’t freak out about China so much.”

Both of these pieces, however, do offer specific critiques and departures from orthodoxy.

In his article (gated, p. 234), Silla takes Djibouti as a case study and argues that maintaining a military base there is, on balance, likely not worth it:

In sustaining geographic force projection for its own sake, [the] United States would risk taking on a burden in Africa with ambiguous strategic benefits…Given technical advances in naval and air warfare, a base in Djibouti might be an unnecessary expense for future tactical force projection requirements in Africa and other geographic regions. While a diminished permanent U.S. military presence might result in increased attacks by al-Shabab or other groups on Somali or regional targets in the near term, the United States nonetheless has the capacity to respond promptly to specific regional threats to the U.S. homeland and other U.S. interests should they present themselves in the future.

Temin, meanwhile, gives a concrete example of when the U.S. government made the wrong call on an issue connected to democratization:

Survey data also shows that a majority of Africans share many of the values that the Biden administration seeks to emphasize, such as support for democracy, free and fair elections, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. In many cases, it is their leaders who don’t believe in these values. Too often, the United States has sided with the authoritarians because of short-term uncertainty about who will succeed them, fear of chaotic transitions, or the desire to preserve security partnerships. Such was the case when Mahamat Déby, the son of Chad’s longtime strongman Idriss Déby, seized power upon his father’s death earlier this year contrary to the succession plan laid out in the country’s constitution. The United States chose not to call this what it was—a coup—presumably in order to preserve its long-standing counterterrorism partnership with Chad.

Temin goes on to make explicit criticisms of how successive administrations in Washington approached – and over-personalized – their relationships with leaders in South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Guinea. That kind of specificity is very helpful, I think, and I hope policymakers in DC are paying attention.

*Note too that many who argue for making Africa a higher priority do not say which region/s of the world should be made a lower priority as a result. Maybe it doesn’t have to be completely zero-sum, but any re-ranking of priorities must necessarily involve downgrading some as others are moved up the list.

Like Clockwork, Journalists Cast Suspicion on Salafis Following a Jihadist Attack

Cote d’Ivoire has suffered two notable jihadist attacks in recent years: the assault on the Étoile du Sud Hotel in Grand Bassam in March 2016, and an attack on a border post at Kafolo in June of this year. Assessing the threat that jihadists pose to Cote d’Ivoire is very difficult, and there are many, many unknowns about the extent of jihadist activity and recruitment in the country.

Le Monde, however, has already decided that Salafism in Cote d’Ivoire is a big problem. A new article is headlined, “In Cote d’Ivoire, the Islam ‘of the Middle Ground’ Is Weakened By the Breakthrough of Salafism” and subtitled “After the terrorist attack at Kafolo on 11 June, authorities fear the installation of a jihadist cell in the country, even though it’s known for its religious cohesion.”

The article contains everything that so many other articles, written about so many other countries, have contained: The government-backed Islamic council are the good guys, the moderates; then Saudi money poured in and ruined everything. The Salafis are calling other Muslims kuffar, and the stage is set for violence. The narrative writes itself.

There are many problems with that narrative, though. For one thing, Salafism or Wahhabism or whatever one wants to call it has been present in Cote d’Ivoire for decades. Robert Launay’s Beyond the Stream, based on his extensive fieldwork in northern Cote d’Ivoire beginning in the 1970s, shows that neither Salafism, nor debates over what it means to be an Ivoirian Muslim, are new whatsoever. Other works covering countries across West Africa, for example Cote d’Ivoire’s neighbors Burkina Faso and Ghana (see Ousman Kobo’s Unveiling Modernity), also date organized Salafism and the bitter debates it provoked back to the 1960s or even earlier. The article in Le Monde gives the misleading impression that Salafism, Saudi Arabian-funded NGOs, and accusations of unbelief are of very recent vintage in Cote d’Ivoire, roughly coinciding with the presidency of Alassane Ouattara (took office 2010). One Ivoirian academic quoted in the article puts the change in the religious scene even more recently, in just the last five years. Yet by implying that Ivoirian Salafism came only recently, the journalists can duck a crucial question: If this interpretation of Islam predisposes people to jihadist violence, why has there not been more jihadist violence in the country? As Jacob Olidort has written, “If most Salafists globally were involved in forming political parties or in direct violent activity, the world would look very different.” 

A second problem with the narrative in Le Monde‘s article and elsewhere is that it never really specifies the mechanism that is supposed to lead from the spread of Salafism to the spread of jihadism. I think the assumptions are so hard-wired into the Western liberal consciousness that they’re almost never, now, unpacked. It’s assumed that Saudi Arabia wants to spread not just its favored theology around the world, but in particular violent, disruptive interpretations of Islam  – is that true? Would that be in Saudi Arabia’s national interest? Why then have Saudi Arabian universities and clerical bodies placed so much emphasis on the (alleged) theological imperative of obeying rulers?

And it’s assumed, in Le Monde‘s article and elsewhere, that when Salafis give sermons in which “the woman who works and who dresses without a veil is attacked, beer drinkers are badly perceived” that this is somehow the penultimate step before violence breaks out – is that true? Since 9/11 if not before, so many journalists and commentators have been confident that jihadists commit attacks not out of direct political motivations and goals but out of holding illiberal beliefs, particularly about women; Bin Laden wasn’t really mad about American soldiers in Saudi Arabia and all the other specific and explicitly political issues he repeatedly mentioned, the logic runs; he must have actually been mad about women wearing bikinis and reading books. So whenever you find a Muslim scholar or preacher or activist who doesn’t like unveiled women or people going to bars, the logic continues, that person must be kind of a crypto-jihadist, delivering inflammatory sermons on social issues until the time is ripe to launch a violent project.

At the same time, journalists and commentators spin out a kind of fantasy about the Salafis’ supposed opposite, the “moderate” Muslim, onto whom Western liberals project an equal number of assumptions. But let’s try an experiment: let’s go into a random, non-Salafi mosque in Cote d’Ivoire and ask the imam to perform a marriage ceremony for two men or two women at the nearest bar. What do you think the reaction will be? Or find me the chapter in the Risala or the Mukhtasar* where it says that women should go unveiled and that drinking beer is fine. Ask these kinds of questions, and suddenly the definition of “moderate” begins to get slippery – are “moderate” clerics those who support the incumbent government? Swear off violence completely? Studiously avoid sensitive, sexuality-related topics when attending the workshop convened by USAID? Meanwhile there are many clerics, Salafis and non-Salafis, who are deeply socially conservative but who are not only disinterested in violence, but disinterested in contestatory politics of any kind. Yet only of certain Muslims is the demand made: “Tell your daughter to uncover her hair or I’ll say you’re a terrorist.”

Do we find Salafi-jihadi organizations and figures with links to wider Salafi movements? Absolutely. But the relationships and the ideological transformations have to do not with the content of beliefs in isolation, not with violence flowing spontaneously out of certain theological outlooks, but with specific processes and triggers. Muhammad Yusuf, the founder of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, was not an inevitable outgrowth of the wider and mostly non-violent Salafi movement in Nigeria. Rather, he was a religio-political entrepreneur who broke with the wider Salafi movement on key points and whose evolution was shaped by numerous context-specific events both inside and outside the Salafi milieu. Iyad ag Ghali, now the most prominent Sahelian jihadist, founded a Salafi-jihadist organization in late 2011/early 2012 after years of exposure to Salafi theology as well as jihadist networks and thought – but he had also been negotiating to lead a decidedly non-Salafi, separatist rebel movement just weeks before creating his jihadist outfit. In fact, with a few exceptions, in West Africa it has been relatively rare for a major Salafi preacher to create a jihadist outfit – often the leaders of jihadist organizations are fighting men, for lack of a better descriptor, and when we see preachers leading movements it is figures (like Yusuf or Amadou Kouffa) who are second-tier preachers at best, junior to more established Salafi clerics. The big-deal preachers have too much on the line to go into jihadism – and none of the big-deal preachers in the region have seemed very interested in jihadist projects in the first place, however illiberal they may be in their social views or however critical they may be of politicians in their countries.

As with so much journalism, moreover, the sensationalist headline of Le Monde‘s article is belied by much of the content. A long section discusses how historically, there has been less inter-religious conflict in the country than one might have expected. The article closes with an Ivoirian researcher saying, “To my knowledge, there exists no formal, radicalized entity in the country.” So what is the point, then, of suggesting that Cote d’Ivoire has some kind of massive problem with radicalized Salafis?

In fact, there are risks that this type of journalism and this type of thinking will do real world harm: (1) a lot of people uninvolved in violence could become targets of suspicion and even of the type of harassment that can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, (2) “CVE” practitioners could waste a ton of money and time and stir up various forms of resentment by trying to turn people into liberals when, again, those people aren’t involved in violence, and (3) government efforts to control interpretations of Islam and to curtail the activities of specific theological constituencies could escape the kinds of critical questions that should be asked; as so often, Western liberals are eager to see religious controls imposed in Muslim countries that they would find unacceptable in their own societies.

*Two core texts in the Maliki school of (Sunni) Islamic law, the school long dominant in North and West Africa.

Snapshots of Sirte, Libya after the Islamic State

Over the past few months, several very strong pieces have come out on Sirte, Libya. The Islamic State controlled parts of the town from very early 2015 until December 2016, when an offensive led by Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) broke their control.

In July, Oliver Imhof and Osama Mansour of Airwars described “The Last Days of ISIS’ Libya Stronghold” in the Daily Beast. The piece focuses on harm to civilians during the months-long battle for the city:

The battle for Sirte again makes clear why tracking harm from the perspective of affected civilians themselves is so important. Local reporting clearly suggests that non-combatants weren’t just trapped in the city, but were actively held hostage in besieged neighborhoods by ISIS. Even so, the U.S. still conducted 495 airstrikes at Sirte, while its ground allies the GNA also conducted airstrikes as well as intense artillery shelling during the siege.

See also Airwars’ project on Libya.

At Carnegie last month, Frederic Wehrey and Emad Badi looked at the aftermath of the Islamic State’s expulsion from Sirte:

More than a year after this liberation, Sirte has again faded to the margins, to the chagrin of its war-weary inhabitants. Vast sections of its downtown have been reduced to rubble, schools and universities have been closed, and mines and dead bodies still litter its streets and alleyways. More important than this physical devastation, however, is the damage to the city’s political institutions and communal fabric. To be sure, much of this damage was rooted in the Islamic State’s violent rule. While providing some degree of sought-after order and service provision, the Islamic State accelerated the erosion of tribal authority, upended social norms, and caused widespread displacement and trauma. Yet in many respects, Sirte’s current afflictions are also a continuation of its unbroken history of exclusion in the post-2011 order and deep political wounds that have yet to heal.

Wehrey’s book The Burning Shores: Inside the Battle for the New Libya, also came out this year.

Also in August, Tom Westcott reported from Sirte in a piece for IRIN:

There are still skeletons amongst the rubble, mines and unexploded ordnance have not been cleared, and 3,000 people are registered with local authorities as homeless.

Most of the people displaced from the city centre, like AbuBaker, are living in rented homes elsewhere in the city, unable to return home. According to the UN, 20,000 people are displaced in the city as a whole, and more than half of Sirte’s residents are still shuttling between temporary residences and their homes, while they rebuild. The three central districts of Campo (where AbuBaker’s house is), Giza, and Sirte 3 remain empty.

A grim picture comes through in all three pieces. And one gets the stark sense that most of the international actors who were hyper-concerned about the Islamic State’s presence in Sirte are not nearly so concerned about what happens to people there now.

Theresa May and Angela Merkel in Africa

This week, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both done multi-country trips to Africa.

Here are their respective itineraries.

May (find the official roundup of her speeches, press conferences, and announcements here):

  • South Africa, 28 August
  • Nigeria, 29 August
  • Kenya, 30 August


  • Senegal, 29 August
  • Ghana, 30 August (see a Ghanaian government press release here)
  • Nigeria, 31 August

I do not think the trips are meant to compete with one another – the fact that both leaders put Nigeria on the itinerary simply reflects Nigeria’s importance, I suspect.

Thematically, the trips had different emphases – May’s trip was a multi-pronged effort that touched on trade, investmentsecurity (including a “first ever UK-Nigeria security and defence partnership…[in which] the UK has also offered to help Nigeria – for the first time – train full army units before they deploy to the North East”), and financial crimes. The UK also announced that new embassies will open in Chad and Niger.

Meanwhile, migration seemed to dominate the agenda for Merkel. From Al Jazeera:

On her tour, Merkel is expected to discuss migration prevention with the leaders of Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria, where a large portion of African migrants arriving in Germany originate from.

The chancellor hopes to find a way to prevent them from starting their journeys, including providing more development aid to their countries.

In terms of how the trips are going, I should confess that I’m not the biggest fan of May, but I’m not alone in thinking that there have been a few sour notes.

May’s interlocutors, meanwhile, are openly concerned about Brexit’s global impact:

Merkel’s trip has also come in for its share of criticism, especially from those who raise doubts about the feasibility and moral status of the European Union’s approach to African migration. Here is an excerpt from the Al Jazeera piece linked above:

George Kibala Bauer, a Congolese-German contributing editor at Africa is a Country online publication, told Al Jazeera that Merkel’s recent interest in Africa was the result of a considerable political pressure against her, including from her own political allies, for her perceived open-migration policy.

“This is not only morally questionable but also practically misguided,” he said.


Bauer said the EU has increasingly empowered third countries, and effectively outsourced certain tasks to states in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa.

We’ll see whether anything else comes of the trips.

Libya Roundup, 6/8

Here are a few items on Libya that caught my eye this week:

  • Jacob Mundy in The Conversation: “Libya’s transitional leaders, some of whom will be presidential candidates, are entangled in – and benefit from – the country’s war economy. So do various armed factions that may view the vote as a threat to their interests and disrupt the process before it begins.” See also Tarek Megerisi.
  • Al Jazeera on Khalifa Haftar’s forces entering into Derna. More at The Independent and Al Arabiya.
  • Reuters: “The United States said on Wednesday [June 6] it had conducted a precision air strike near the Libyan town of Bani Walid, killing four Islamic State militants…One of those killed in the strike was Abd al-Aati Ashtaiwy, a Libyan who had traveled to Syria and had previously been based in Sirte, which Islamic State controlled from 2015-2016, according to the Bani Walid source and local reports.” Here is AFRICOM’s statement.
  • RFI (French) on allegations that various (non-Libyan) African rebels are training in southern Libya.

Libya: Press Roundup, Key Documents on the Sarraj-Haftar Meeting in Paris

On July 25, two of the most important figures in Libyan politics – Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord, and Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army – met in Paris and agreed on a ceasefire.

Here are a few a relevant statements:

  • The joint declaration by Sarraj and Haftar.
  • The speech by President Macron (French).
  • United Nations Security Council: “The members of the Security Council welcome the meeting of Fayez Al Sarraj, President of the Presidency Council of Libya, and General Khalifa Haftar, Commander of the LNA, hosted in Paris by the President of the French Republic on the 25th of July, and the Joint Declaration issued after the meeting. Council members urge all Libyans to support a negotiated political solution, national reconciliation, and an immediate ceasefire, as called for in the Joint Declaration.”
  • U.S. State Department: “We welcome the Joint Declaration from the July 25, meeting between Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and General Khalifa Haftar, hosted outside of Paris by French President Emmanuel Macron. We call on all Libyans to support political dialogue and adhere to a cease-fire, as stated in the Joint Declaration.”

Here’s a roundup of some press coverage. Much of the coverage has been quite critical, including when it comes to assessing the role of French President Emmanuel Macron:

  • L’Express (French): “If the initiative seems praiseworthy, nevertheless the hardest [part] remains to be done.”
  • Bloomberg: “A French-led effort to reunify fractured Libya failed to consult powerful local forces and risks achieving little beyond boosting the legitimacy of a renegade general who has recently racked up significant battlefield gains.”
  • The Economist: “The deal is but a small step. More agreements are needed before elections can be held and the fighting, which now involves myriad groups, is likely to continue. As it is, the LNA, which backs a separate government in the east, rarely battles the forces aligned with Mr Serraj. But General Haftar is free to keep pummelling terrorists, which is what he labels most of his opponents. The country’s powerful militias were left out of the talks in Paris, which were chaired by the newly appointed UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé. So like previous deals brokered by the UN, this one lacks widespread support, at least for now.”
  • VOA: “The meeting…was not coordinated with the Italian government. [Italian Prime Minister Paolo] Gentiloni’s ministers took the unusual step of openly criticizing the French president this week, voicing their frustration with Macron’s efforts, which they argue distract from a coordinated U.N. and European Union effort to engineer a political deal in Libya between three rival governments and dozens of militias.

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.