New Blacklists, External and Local, Clarify Faultlines in Libyan Politics

Amid the dispute between Qatar and a group of Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain), Qatar’s opponents released a list last week of fifty-nine individuals and twelve charities accused of involved in terrorism and extremism. The United Nations, which operates its own influential blacklist of proven and alleged terrorists (as does the United States), has essentially rejected the list, and so the list’s influence may have real limits. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see who made the list, and it is notable that the list is already being amplified by those on one side of Libya’s complex civil war.

First, I think it’s worth noting the breakdown of the fifty-nine individuals by nationalities:

  • 26 Egyptians (of whom the most famous is Yusuf al-Qaradawi, arguably the most famous living Sunni Muslim scholar)
  • 18 Qataris
  • 5 Libyans
  • 3 Kuwaitis (counting 1 Saudi-Kuwaiti)
  • 2 Saudis (counting 1 Saudi-Kuwaiti)
  • 2 Bahrainis
  • 2 Jordanians
  • 1 Emirati
  • 1 Yemeni

Here are the Libyans:

  • Al-Sadiq al-Gharyani, Libya’s Grand Mufti
  • Ali al-Sallabi, a religious leader from Benghazi strongly associated with Qatar and with political Islamism
  • Ismail al-Sallabi, Ali al-Sallabi’s brother and a leader in the Benghazi Defense Brigades/Companies for the Defense of Benghazi*
  • Abdelhakim Belhadj, a former jihadist in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and currently an Islamist politician
  • Mahdi Harati, a former militia commander who served as mayor of Tripoli in 2014-2015

There is no question that these individuals are connected to Qatar, but the question of whether they are “terrorists” or not is essentially political.

The blacklisting has already evoked complex responses inside Libya. One major response has come from the House of Representatives, the internationally recognized, anti-Islamist parliament in eastern Libya. The House of Representatives is aligned with Khalifa Haftar, a retired general who commands the would-be Libyan National Army, a major force in northeast (and increasingly, southern) Libya. The House of Representatives and Haftar strongly oppose a variety of Islamist and jihadist-leaning currents in Libya; Haftar considers all of them “terrorists,” even figures and movements (such as the Muslim Brotherhood) that have participated in mainstream politics in Libya. In terms of how these sides line up with the political splits in the Gulf, the House of Representatives and Haftar receive strong backing from the UAE, Egypt, and to some extent Saudi Arabia, while many Libyan Islamists receive backing from Qatar.

Given that context, it is perhaps no surprise that the House of Representatives’ National Defense and Security Committee not only welcomed the Saudi/Emirati/Egyptian/Bahriani list, but also issued its own list (Arabic) of 75 Libyan individuals and 9 institutions that it alleges are associated with terrorism and with Qatar. The list includes numerous Muslim Brotherhood leaders, various figures associated with Qatar-backed media channels, individuals close to the Grand Mufti, people in the anti-Haftar Benghazi Defense Brigades, and prominent members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

If the list, as proposed, were accepted by the Government of National Accord (the GNA, the internationally recognized executive government backed by the United Nations, although not yet endorsed by the House of Representatives), then the resulting designations would effectively ban Islamism as a mainstream political force in Libya. I do not expect the GNA to accept the list, but its circulation gives a very clear snapshot of whom the House of Representatives and Haftar consider their main political enemies. The list also gives an initial sense of how the Qatar/Saudi split (to use a shorthand) is playing out even more explicitly in Libyan domestic politics now than it was before.

*I’ve written about the Brigades here.


Africa Blog Roundup: Eastleigh, Mombasa Republican Council, Northern Mali, the Olympics, and More

Focus on the Horn on the complexity of Eastleigh, Nairobi, Kenya:

Eastleigh is not just a Somali story.  For example, conspicuous amongst its population are vast numbers of Meru from central Kenya: many have migrated to the estate to sell the khat grown in their home region, attracting other Meru in turn to either join the khat trade or start up cafes, salons and so forth. There is also an important connection to Eritrea and Ethiopia.  More established Eritreans and Ethiopians have had a major stake in the matatus plying the Eastleigh route, some becoming involved in this business as far back as the 1970s.  Ethiopian restaurants and businesses are easy to find in the estate, especially around 10th Street, an area that might be labelled ‘Little Addis’ if one were so inclined.  Among these Ethiopians, Oromo form a large and increasing proportion as more and more flee persecution in Ethiopia.  In appearance and dress they can often be mistaken for Somalis, but in fact operate a significant number of the stalls in the Eastleigh malls.  Reporting on Eastleigh needs to recognise this diversity and most importantly, this interconnectedness – which in the end is what makes business and peace possible.

In another Kenya story, Lesley Anne Warner writes on a recent court ruling that called a ban on the Mombasa Republican Council unconstitutional.

James Gundun writes on northern Mali here – “bringing a U.S.-backed war to Mali could create a new quagmire in the heart of north Africa” – and leaves another insightful comment on the situation here: “ECOWAS, EU and UN rhetoric [regarding a potential military intervention in northern Mali] is meant to reassure ‘the market’ that is the Sahel: to bluff the MNLA and Islamic militants, and stem a confidence crisis during a regional emergency.”

Kal on Qatar, Algeria, and Mali.

Drawing on the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado and the recent clashes in Jos, Nigeria, Andrew Walker discusses how the media covers violence.

Africa Is A Country on London, Africa, and the Olympics.

What are you reading today? Also, do you think it’s time for a purge of the blogroll? Some of those blogs haven’t been updated in months.