egypt’s western flank

Of the three countries in North Africa that have been through a revolution – Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – I used to think that Libya stood the best chance of success.  I know this sounds strange  for the majority of observers, but here are my reasons.

Unlike Tunisia and Egypt,  who only removed Ben Ali and Mubarak and a few people around them without spilling much  blood,  the Libyans had gone further.  Not only did they  (in a typical revolutionary and bloody fashion) capture the head of the <i>ancien regime</i> and execute him in public, but they also killed  (or sent on the run) other members of his family and pillars of the old brutal order. In this sense, the Libyan revolution was complete,  the other two were not.

But these were not the only reasons for my short-lived optimism.  Also unlike Tunisia and Egypt,  Libya is an oil-rich country, has a small population, which meant that if the Libyans could agree a decent form of sharing power and wealth, there is enough to go around.

However, so far they have failed.  The reasons for that are many. Some are classic : revolutions are always followed by turmoil, old regime supporters regrouping and fighting back and, crucially,  the old mental map survives the revolution, and reproduces all the bad things the revolution was meant to remove in the first place.  Things get even muddier when external players weigh in on the raging battles.  All of that is happening in Libya.

Of all the reasons cited for Libya’s bleak future at the start of the uprising that overthrew Gaddafi,  the descent into tribal warfare, the break up of the country into small fiefdoms,  one particular scenario didn’t figure prominently in the list :  the emergence of Islamist militias as powerful players.

Despite the chaos and break down of law and order (assuming that there was law and order of a kind under Gaddafi) the threat from Islamist violence is in my opinion the most serious.  Tribal conflict and other factional disputes are containable and can eventually be resolved, and will most likely stay within Libyan borders.   But the Islamist threat is of a different order altogether.


(<em>Muslim Brother militia in Libya</em>)

First, the Islamists will accept nothing short of prevailing. If not by the ballot box, then by the suicide belt.  And because they have failed at the ballot box in Libya, they seem determined to prevail by other means.   All the more so, after their ideological brothers were overthrown by the people in Egypt,  and the influence of their Tunisian brethren has been curtailed.

The former PM Ali Zeidan has singled out the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brothers as the force behind efforts to delay the transition to an elected form of government because,  he said, it knew it couldn’t win the forthcoming election.

Of Libya’s neighbours that should worry most about what’s happening across the border Egypt is the most vulnerable. Yet,  its response has been typically lethargic or pathetic (if any)  despite the enormity of the threat.

Next to the Libyans themselves,  Egyptian workers in Libya have been the main target of Islamist violence and brutality. The targeting of Egyptians have been relentless. Some of that may of course be the work of common criminals. But the killing of Copts in particular and sacking their churches in Libya carried the hall mark of the Muslim Brothers and other terrorist groups associated with them.

This is for example what a Muslim Brother wrote on the Facebook page of the Libyan youth wing of the Muslim Brothers :

“Be careful our Libyan brothers of the Egyptian Christians who work in your country. They are ( they sow the seeds of ) sedition, and they were the main reason in obstructing the Islamic project in Egypt. They are fighting us day and night with your money that they bring back from your country here . Eradicate them from your country if you can to please Allah, because they are the worst enemies of Islam. Do not let your money (be used to) to wage war against us and defeat us. May Allah reward you for your good work.”

This says it all really. The aim of targeting Egyptian expats in Libya is to continue the war being waged against the Egyptian state and society by the Muslim Brothers and their allies wherever and whenever it is possible. They use the media in Western capitals or Istanbul or Doha. In the Middle East they resort to the means they know best : violence.

And Libya is a major front in this war.  Failing to realise that could have disasterous consequences for Egypt and the wider world. It is understandable that the state is busy fighting Islamist terrorism in the Sinai peninsula.  But the menace from Libya is just as serious.

That heavy weapons from Libya have found their way into Egypt  is beyond doubt.  That was on ample display when for the first time the terrorists had access to shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missile which they used to shoot down an army helicopter in Sinai.

Realising the what happens inside Libya will not stay within its borders,  some Nato countries have stepped in to help build up Libyan security forces that can stand up to Islamist inspired terrorism and regain control of the country.  It’s about time Egypt realised that the threat from Libya is by no means less dangerous than that from the one in Sinai. In fact both are linked, as  the Reuters news agency reported recently,   the terrorists in Sinai get their weapons from Libya.

(Written for IslamistGate : <a href=”″></a> )


Magdi Abdelhadi

Writer, broadcaster, moderator, media consultant. I commute between London and Cairo. I am a former BBC journalist. All views here are only mine.


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