Muslim Brotherhood in Libya

Year of Origin:

1949Omar Ashour, “Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood faces the future,” Foreign Policy, March 9, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/09/libyas-muslim-brotherhood-faces-the-future/.

Place(s) of Operation:
Tripoli, Misrata, Benghazi, North Eastern Libya

Libya

The Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (i.e., the Brotherhood) is one of the largest Islamist parties in the country. Brotherhood members in Libya lead the country’srogueIslamist government in Tripoli—known as the Government of National Salvation (GNS)—while also having members in the country’s unity government State Council.Sasha Toperich, “Libya: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Last Stand?” Huffington Post, July 24, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sasha-toperich/libya-the-muslim-brotherhoods-last-stand_b_5618001.html, Theodore Karasik, “Why all eyes should be on Libya right now,” Al Arabiya, May 4, 2015, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/05/04/Why-all-eyes-should-be-on-Libya-right-now.html; Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict. The Brotherhood has also maintained strong ties to Islamist militias that once backed the former Islamist General National Council (GNC).Chris Stephen, “War in Libya – the Guardian briefing,” Guardian (London), August 29, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/29/-sp-briefing-war-in-libya. Three of the Libya Dawn militias are directly allied with the Brotherhood: the 17 February Martyrs Brigade (17 Feb), the Misrata militias, and the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR).Cameron Glenn, “Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – And What They Want,” Wilson Center, accessed May 5, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want; Libya Dawn: Map of allies and enemies,” Al Arabiya, August 25, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/alarabiya-studies/2014/08/25/Libyan-Dawn-Map-of-allies-and-enemies.html; Mapping Libya’s armed groups,” Al Jazeera, June 2, 2014 http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/05/libya-armed-groups-explained-201452293619773132.html.

The Libyan branch of the Brotherhood was established in Benghazi in 1949 by members of the Egyptian Brotherhood fleeing a government crackdown in Cairo. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi criminalized the Brotherhood after he came to power in Libya in 1969. Throughout the 1980s, the Gaddafi regime hunted down and executed Brotherhood leaders and operatives. Gaddafi warned that if Islamists wanted to practice dawa (proselytizing), they should do so outside of Libya. Many Brotherhood members fled the country as a result of the threat or else were arrested or forced underground.Omar Ashour, “Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood faces the future,” Foreign Policy, March 9, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/09/libyas-muslim-brotherhood-faces-the-future/; “Libyan Islamists Unpacked: Rise, Transformation, and Future,” Brookings Doha Center, May 2012, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2012/5/02%20libya%20ashour/omar%20ashour%20policy%20briefing%20english.pdf; Cameron Glenn, “Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – And What They Want,” Wilson Center, accessed May 5, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want.

During Gaddafi’s reign, some Brotherhood members who had fled Libya congregated in the United States to create a temporary Brotherhood group known as the “Islamic Group – Libya”.Omar Ashour, “Libyan Islamists Unpacked: Rise, Transformation, and Future,” Brookings Doha Center, May 2012, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2012/5/02%20libya%20ashour/omar%20ashour%20policy%20briefing%20english.pdf. In 1982, several of the group’s leaders attempted to return to Libya in order to reestablish the Brotherhood’s presence. Gaddafi had many of them arrested or killed.Omar Ashour, “Libyan Islamists Unpacked: Rise, Transformation, and Future,” Brookings Doha Center, May 2012, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2012/5/02%20libya%20ashour/omar%20ashour%20policy%20briefing%20english.pdf; Omar Ashour, “Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood faces the future,” Foreign Policy, March 9, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/09/libyas-muslim-brotherhood-faces-the-future/.

Following the ousting of Gaddafi in 2011, the Brotherhood was quick to reestablish its presence in Libya. In March 2012, Brotherhood activist Mohamed Sowan formed the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), a political party that sought to establish a Libyan Islamist caliphate and which was reportedly modeled after the Egyptian Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Omar Ashour, “Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood faces the future,” Foreign Policy, March 9, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/09/libyas-muslim-brotherhood-faces-the-future/. Three months later, the JCP came in second in Libya’s first post-Gaddafi national parliamentary election, winning 34 out of 200 seats in July of 2012.Cameron Glenn, “Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – And What They Want,” Wilson Center, accessed May 5, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want.

Once in parliament, the JCP reportedly formed strategic alliances with independent seat holders to increase its political influence over the country’s secular and nationalist coalition, the National Forces Alliance (NFA).Cameron Glenn, “Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – And What They Want,” Wilson Center, accessed May 5, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want. The JCP soon grew to become the most influential bloc in parliament. By May 2013, the JCP was able to push through the Political Isolation Law (PIL), which prevented Gaddafi-era officials from participation in Libya’s political system for the next 10 years. According to BBC News, the JCP strategically constructed the PIL to target NFA parliamentary members, knowing that many of them were former Gaddafi officials.Libya revokes bill which banned Gaddafi-era officials from office,” BBC News, February 2, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-31104099. Several NFA members were forced to resign from government as a result of the law. Cameron Glenn, “Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – And What They Want,” Wilson Center, accessed May 5, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want.

Despite their political successes within parliament, the JCP lost nine seats during the 2014 elections.Cameron Glenn, “Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – And What They Want,” Wilson Center, accessed May 5, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want. According to reports, the JCP accused the new parliament of being overrun by Gaddafi supporters, Chris Stephen, “War in Libya – the Guardian briefing,” Guardian (London), August 29, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/29/-sp-briefing-war-in-libya. and later splitoff from parliament with other Islamist groups to form the Islamist General National Congress (GNC) government in Tripoli.Chris Stephen, “War in Libya – the Guardian briefing,” Guardian (London), August 29, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/29/-sp-briefing-war-in-libya. After the start of the GCC-Qatar diplomatic crisis in June 2017, the Libyan House of Representatives issued a list of Qatar-linked Libyans deemed to be terrorists, including several prominent JCP members.Moutaz Ali, “Muslim Brotherhood party says HoR terror list is defamation,” Libya Herald (Tripoli), June 11, 2017, https://www.libyaherald.com/2017/06/11/muslim-brotherhood-party-says-hor-terror-list-is-defamation/.

The JCP was one of the leading blocs involved in the creation of the GNC in Tripoli in August 2014.The GNC declared its alliance with a coalition of Islamist Libyan militias called Libya Dawn. According to reports, the mission of Libya Dawn is to defend the presence of political groups linked to the Brotherhood such as the JCP, block the success of the nationalist Libyan government, and promote political Islam.Libya Dawn: Map of allies and enemies,” Al Arabiya, August 25, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/alarabiya-studies/2014/08/25/Libyan-Dawn-Map-of-allies-and-enemies.html; Sasha Toperich, “Libya: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Last Stand?” Huffington Post, July 24, 2014 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sasha-toperich/libya-the-muslim-brotherhoods-last-stand_b_5618001.html.

In September 2014, the Libya Dawn alliance seized control of the Libyan capital of Tripoli.Ulf Laessing, “Libya’s runaway parliament seeks refuge in Tobruk bubble,” Reuters, October 2, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security-insight-idUSKCN0HR1GO20141002. The GNC established its own self-styled governmental body, the Government of National Salvation (GNS).Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict; Ahmed Elumami, “Libya’s self-declared National Salvation government stepping down,” Reuters, April 5, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security-politics-idUSKCN0X22KG. The former parliament in Tripoli, meanwhile, relocated to Tobruk and established the internationally recognized Libyan government. In May 2014, the Tobruk-based government’s House of Representatives (HoR) tasked General Khalifa Haftar with countering the Libya Dawn in Tripoli. Haftar launched Operation Dignity in an effort to quash the Libya Dawn coalition and other armed Islamist groups.“Libya Dawn: Map of allies and enemies,” Al Arabiya, August 25, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/alarabiya-studies/2014/08/25/Libyan-Dawn-Map-of-allies-and-enemies.html.

In December 2015, the United Nations brokered the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), a power-sharing agreement between the internationally recognized government in Tobruk and the GNS government in Tripoli. The LPA dissolved the now-defunct Libya Dawn and authorized the creation of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which took formal control of the Libyan government in Tripoli on March 30, 2016. Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict. Under the LPA, the GNS formerly resigned and a large number of GNS members were transitioned into the GNA’s State Council, which serves as the consultative body of the GNA.Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict; Ahmed Elumami, “Libya’s self-declared National Salvation government stepping down,” Reuters, April 5, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security-politics-idUSKCN0X22KG; Tripoli Salvation Government resigns, hands power back to GNC,” Libyan Express, April 1, 2016, http://www.libyanexpress.com/tripoli-salvation-government-resigns-hands-power-back-to-gnc-2/. Despite the LPA, other former GNS members and the HoR, backed by Haftar, have refused to recognize the GNA as Libya’s governing authority.Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict.

In October 2016, former GNS Prime Minister Khalifa Ghwell attempted to reestablish the GNS by attempting a coup against the GNA. Former GNS members backed by the Presidential Guard and several Islamist militias, seized control of several government buildings, including the parliament. Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict; Associated Press, “Clashes erupt in Libyan capital Tripoli,” Ahram Online, October 16, 2016, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/245898/World/Region/Clashes-erupt-in-Libyan-capital-Tripoli.aspx. The renewed GNS, which reasserted itself as an independent body, vowed to reclaim the government infrastructure in Tripoli. Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict; Associated Press, “Clashes erupt in Libyan capital Tripoli,” Ahram Online, October 16, 2016, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/245898/World/Region/Clashes-erupt-in-Libyan-capital-Tripoli.aspx. On January 12, 2017, the GNS seized additional GNA buildings, including the ministries of defense, martyrs’ affairs, and labor.“Salvation government retakes government buildings,” Libya Observer, January 12, 2017, https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/salvation-government-retakes-government-buildings. Although the GNS and GNA continue to compete for control in Tripoli, GNS support for Ghwell has gradually diminished due to its members’ inclusion in the GNA State Council, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations.Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict.

In May 2017, General Haftar, representing the Tobruk government, engaged in peace talks with GNA Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj in Abu Dhabi in the first face-to-face meeting between the two governments in 18 months. They agreed to potential 2018 elections and a power-sharing deal.“Libya’s rival leaders in ‘breakthrough’ agreement that could see end to civil war,” Telegraph (London), May 3, 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/03/libyas-rival-leaders-breakthrough-agreement-could-see-end-civil/; Patrick Wintour, “Breakthrough Libya talks appear to yield deal between rival factions,” Guardian (London), May 3, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/03/libya-rival-factions-appear-to-reach-outline-agreement. Nonetheless, in December 2017, Haftar claimed that the GNA was obsolete, given that the timeline originally given for the GNA in the 2015 U.N. agreement had been only two years. However, the United Nations rejected Haftar’s claim, stating that the GNA could continue its operations until a permanent solution is reached.Ayman al-Warfalli, “East Libyan commander Haftar says U.N-backed government obsolete, hints may run in elections,” Reuters, December 17, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security/east-libyan-commander-haftar-says-u-n-backed-government-obsolete-hints-may-run-in-elections-idUSKBN1EB0FB.

Several Islamist militias from the now-defunct Libya Dawn, meanwhile, continue to back former GNC members, in either the GNA or the GNS. Three of these militias are allied with the Brotherhood: the 17 February Martyrs Brigade (17 Feb), the Misrata militias, and the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR). Cameron Glenn, “Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – And What They Want,” Wilson Center, accessed May 5, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want; Libya Dawn: Map of allies and enemies,” Al Arabiya, August 25, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/alarabiya-studies/2014/08/25/Libyan-Dawn-Map-of-allies-and-enemies.html; Mapping Libya’s armed groups,” Al Jazeera, June 2, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/05/libya-armed-groups-explained-201452293619773132.html.

17 February Martyrs Brigade (17 Feb): Brotherhood members formed the 17 February Martyrs Brigade (17 Feb) during the 2011 uprising against the Gaddafi regime. Headquartered in Benghazi, 17 Feb is one of the largest and best-armed militias in eastern Libya. The group primarily conducts law enforcement responsibilities in the southern and eastern regions of the country. Since 2014, 17 Feb has taken up arms against Haftar’sTobruk-based nationalist forces.Cameron Glenn, “Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – And What They Want,” Wilson Center, accessed May 5, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want. 17 Feb is one of several Islamist groups in the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council, a coalition fighting against Haftar’s forces in Benghazi.Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict; “Developments of the Libyan Scene between the Internal Crisis and the External Intervention,” Middle East Observer, November 2, 2016, ttps://www.middleeastobserver.org/2016/11/02/developments-of-the-libyan-scene-between-the-internal-crisis-and-the-external-intervention/. The brigade had previously been contracted by the U.S. State Department and the CIA to defend the U.S. mission in Benghazi.Eli Lake, “In Benghazi, CIA Trusted Local Militia That Melted Away,” Daily Beast, May 10, 2013, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/10/in-benghazi-cia-trusted-local-militia-that-melted-away.html. Despite the contract, the brigade failed to arrive on time to defend the U.S. embassy during the September 11, 2012, attack. Led by Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi and Derna, the attack resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Eli Lake, “In Benghazi, CIA Trusted Local Militia That Melted Away,” Daily Beast, May 10, 2013, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/10/in-benghazi-cia-trusted-local-militia-that-melted-away.html; “Ansar Al-Sharia,” National Counter Terrorism Center, accessed May 12, 2016, https://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/ansar_al_sharia.html.

LROR: The Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR), which operates throughout northern Libya, was created by the GNC in 2013 and charged with providing security to their headquarters in Tripoli and Benghazi.“Guide to key Libyan militias,” BBC News, January 11, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-19744533; “Libya Revolutionaries Joint Operations Room (LROR),” Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, accessed January 26, 2017, https://www.trackingterrorism.org/group/libya-revolutionaries-joint-operations-room-lror. Previously known as the Revolutionary Brigades Coalition (RBC), the LROR is responsible for launching violent attacks—including rocket attacks, gun attacks, and kidnappings—targeting General Haftar’s forces. Though charged with providing security to the GNC, the LROR reportedly has strong affiliations to its Brotherhood members in particular.Omar Ashour, “Libyan Islamists Unpacked: Rise, Transformation, and Future,” Brookings Doha Center, May 2012, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2012/5/02%20libya%20ashour/omar%20ashour%20policy%20briefing%20english.pdf; Cameron Glenn, “Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – And What They Want,” Wilson Center, accessed May 5, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/libyas-islamists-who-they-are-and-what-they-want; Mapping Libya’s armed groups,” Al Jazeera, June 2, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/05/libya-armed-groups-explained-201452293619773132.html. When the GNA took office in Tripoli in March 2016, the LROR voiced its full support for the GNS and threatened the GNA with war.Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room confirms it’s ready to fight UN-imposed government,” Libya Observer, March 18, 2016, https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/libya-revolutionaries-operations-room-confirms-its-fully-ready-fight-un-imposed-government. Following the GNS attempted coup against the GNA in October 2016, the LROR called on all armed groups previously aligned with the former GNC to support the GNS rebellion.Moutaz Ali, “Bunyan Marsous derides Ghwell coup as LROR declares support,” Libya Herald, October 18, 2016, https://www.libyaherald.com/2016/10/17/bunyan-marsous-derides-ghwell-coup-as-lror-declares-support/.

Misrata militias: The GNC was also protected by a collection of anti-nationalist militias known as the Misrata militias. Together, these militias are reported to comprise what Al Jazzier has called “the most powerful single force in Libya”.“Mapping Libya’s armed groups,” Al Jazeera, June 2, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/05/libya-armed-groups-explained-201452293619773132.html. Equipped with heavy weaponry including tanks and rockets, the militias defend the Brotherhood members of the GNC and have fought alongside the LROR in order to protect Tripoli from opposing nationalist forces. Following the LPA, the Misrata militias reorganized. The militias split their support between GNS and the GNA. The pro-GNA Midrate militias, known as the al-Bunyan al-Marcos Operation Forces (BAM), are its leading fighting force against ISIS in Sirte. The BAM liberated Sirte from ISIS in December 2016.Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017 http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict. The remaining Misrata militias support the remnants of the GNC and backed the GNS coup attempt in October 2016. Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict. The remaining Misrata militias support the remnants of the GNC and backed the GNS coup attempt in October 2016.Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017 http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict; Ken Hanly, “Militias clashing in the Libyan capital of Tripoli,” Digital Journal, December 1, 2016, http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/militias-clashing-in-the-libyan-capital-of-tripoli/article/480871.

Since August 2014, the power struggle between the GNA, GNS, and Haftar’s forces has left thousands dead. Anti-Islamist Haftar, backed by the HoR, has refused to work with the GNA, accusing it of aligning with Islamist militias in the fight against ISIS. Haftar’s Libyan National Army has since taken control of much of eastern Libya and continues to fight against Islamist militias in Benghazi. Conor Gaffey, “Who Is KhalifaHaftar, Libya’s Divisive General?” Newsweek, July 22, 2016, http://www.newsweek.com/khalifa-haftar-isis-libya-muammar-el-qaddafi-483246; Mattia Toaldo, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 24, 2017, http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict. The GNS, constructed from the remnants of the Brotherhood-backed GNC, aims to overthrow the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and establish a unified Islamist government throughout Libya.“Libya 2015/2016,” Amnesty International, accessed March 16, 2017, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/libya/report-libya/. Haftar has named the Muslim Brotherhood as the greatest threat to Libya.“Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood break their silence, respond to Haftar’s accusations,” Middle East Monitor, February 22, 2017, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170222-libyas-muslim-brotherhood-break-their-silence-respond-to-haftars-accusations/. The Tobruk government has also labeled Libyan Brotherhood members, including JCP leader Mohamed Souwan, as terrorists.Mohamed Ibrahim, “Branded “a terrorist,” leader of J&C party of Muslim Brotherhood calls slain Operation Dignity fighters “martyrs,”” Libya Observer, April 7, 2018, https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/branded-%E2%80%9C-terrorist%E2%80%9D-leader-jc-party-muslim-brotherhood-calls-slain-operation-dignity-fighters. In January 2019, 20 members of Libya’s parliament called for the criminalization of the Muslim Brotherhood.“Libya parliament members demand criminalizing Muslim Brotherhood,” Xinhua, January 28, 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-01/28/c_137779764.htm.

History

 

Violent Activities

The Brotherhood and its affiliates have engaged in violence against the internationally recognized government of Libya and their nationalist militias.

Designations by Governments and Organizations

For a complete list of countries and organizations that have designated the Muslim Brotherhood, please see the Muslim Brotherhood's full report

In Their Own Words