Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes


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There are Salafists in Libya – and in Egypt and Tunisia – who hold that the principles and practice of early Islam should govern the social and political life of the people. The more extreme Salafists refuse to become involved in elections and see Jihad as the sole means of achieving their ends. In practice this faction would impose their interpretation of Sharia law at the point of a gun. In their view the will of god supersedes the will of the people. For them, to borrow a phrase, the automatic rifle outranks the ballot box.

Contrast this with a statement made recently by the President of the Libyan General National Council Mohamed  Magarief. He told a reporter from Al-Hayat; ‘(In Libya) We want to build a constitutional, democratic, civilian, secular state, but this absolutely does not mean that the constitution or any laws and legislation will be passed that contradict or conflict with Islamic Sharia or its interpretations…….. in the sense that parliament and the government and the authorities, in light of the constitution, are the ones that specify the laws, legislation and decisions and not a religious body’.

This seems to oppose the views of Libya’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Sadiq Al-Ghariani who has called for a Libyan constitution based on Islamic Sharia in which the will of God supersedes that of the public. The drafting of a new constitution is an onerous task and no doubt those charged with the work will consult widely. The Grand Mufti’s views are clearly important as are those of others such as Dr. Umar Mawloud Abdul Hamid and The League of Libyan Ulema.

In this context it is interesting to recall the main points of the Libyan Interim Constitutional Declaration which was drawn up by the Transitional Government after the fall of Gaddafi. It is still in force and appears to give precedence to the ballot box. I believe this to be an acceptable rendering:-

‘Libya is a democracy, wherein the people act as the source of political authorities.

Tripoli is the state capital.

Islam is the state religion.

The Islamic Sharia is its principal source of legislation

The state grants the right of freedom of religion for non-Muslim minorities.

Arabic is the official language.

The state protects the linguistic and cultural rights of all components of Libyan society.’

Update 1st November 2012

The Libyan National Congress voted on 31st October 2012 to approve the government of Prime Minister Dr. Ali Zeidan. However on 30th October a previous meeting of Congress to vote on the government was postponed because a group of protesters, some of whom may have been armed, stormed the building in an attempt to influence Dr. Zeidan’s choice of ministers.

Amongst the protesters were a few Islamic hard-liners (Salafists) objecting to the appointment of Religious Affairs Minister Abdulsalam Mohammed Abusaad. Abusaad is a controversial figure who is said to be a Sufi and thought by some likely to enhance his personal power through the mosques. According to the UK business risk and intelligence company ‘The Inkerman Group’ he is also suspected of dealings with the notorious Mussa Kussa, sometime Foreign Minister and intelligence chief in the Gaddafi regime. Abusaad’s nomination has still to be ratified by the Integrity Commission.

One further controversial figure, again according to the ‘Inkerman Group’, is the new Minster of the Interior, Ashur Suleiman Shwayel. He is a senior police officer and lawyer who has escaped two assassination attempts so far and is unpopular with the Salafists.

Dr. Zeidan, a human rights specialist who was a long-time opponent of the Gaddafi regime, is himself thought by Salafists to be too secular.

Update 2nd November 2012

A  report in the Libya Herald today makes it clear how difficult it is to form a governmet in Libya today…Read this:

Update 3rd November 2012

Dr. Zeidan backs down to militias

Update 5th November 2012. A thought provoking piece about the Muslim Brotherhood:

Update 19th January 2013

This is an interesting piece about the Salafist tendency in Tripoli which is worth noting.

Update 30th March 2013

Salafists are doing great damage to Sufi shrines throughout Libya still as this short reports shows:

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