According to a Library of Congress report, dated August 2012 and titled Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile, Libya appears to be in the midst of a transition from dictatorship chaos to becoming an Islamist state based on a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law. The 54-page report makes for disturbing reading.
The Library of Congress Federal Research Division undertook the study to assess al Qaeda in Maghreb’s presence in post-Gaddafi Libya. In the preface, the report says “Al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have sought to take advantage of the Libyan Revolution to recruit militants and to reinforce their operational capabilities in an attempt to create a safe haven and possibly to extend their area of operations to Libya. Reports have indicated that AQSL is seeking to create an al-Qaeda clandestine network in Libya that could be activated in the future to destabilize the government and/or to offer logistical support to al- Qaeda’s activities in North Africa and the Sahel. AQIM has reportedly formed sleeper cells that are probably connected to an al-Qaeda underground network in Libya, likely as a way, primarily, to secure the supply of arms for its ongoing jihadist operations in Algeria and the Sahel.”
The report finds that the political situation in post-Gaddafi Libya is following the path of other Arab Spring states, only worse. While many local Libyans reject Salafism, in June 2012 “Ansar al-Sharia staged a large-scale rally and military show of force involving dozens of military vehicles, with Islamists wearing the Afghan mujahidin’s traditional outfit. Some leaders described themselves as Islamists and called for implementation of sharia similar to that which the Taliban had implemented in Afghanistan or al-Qaeda in Somalia and Yemen. The military show of force consisted of a parade in which some 30 battalions from Benghazi, Darnah, Misrata, Al-Nufilyah, Ajdabiyah, and other Libyan towns took part in the first meeting in support of sharia in Benghazi.”
A battalion is typically formed of about 300 fighters at the low end, and more than 1,000 at the high end. At the low end, then, the Islamists showed from 9,000 to 30,000 fighters. The LoC report says that the purpose of the widespread demonstration was to terrorize local Libyans into supporting the jihadist cause. The United States has made a public point of not placing any American “boots on the ground” during or after the war that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The juxtaposition of a nationally visible and robust Islamist force and a reticent United States could not have been lost on the average, undecided Libyan civilian.
According to the report, Libya’s democratic liberals are outnumbered in the government elected in the country’s July 2012 elections. “Although early electoral results show that liberals of the Alliance of National Forces won a sizable portion of the seats reserved to political parties—40 out of 120 seats—the final new political configuration will be determined by independent individuals who are disproportionately in favor of the Islamist agenda, according to Mohamed Swam, the leader of the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing. The elected national assembly will draft a new constitution, which is expected to institute sharia as the supreme source of law.”