Council of Islamic Youth fighters patrol near the Libyan town of Derna. Reuters
The excellent Financial Times reporter Borzou Daraghi has an article about Libya and the perils of Islamic State (or as the article calls it, Isis). Some excerpts:
Libya’s complex mix of political and military groupings includes tribal and regional groupings but generally comes down to two warring camps. One, which includes armed forces rallying around retired general Khalifa Haftar, is loyal to the internationally-recognised elected government now taking refuge in the eastern city of Tubruq.
The other is a grouping of Islamist militias and their political allies, who call themselves Libya Dawn. They have taken control of Tripoli and declared their own “national salvation government” under the leadership of Omar Hassi.
Jihadis are emerging as a third force. According to Mohamed Eljarh, a Libyan scholar and fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Middle East centre, the city of Derna is run by a collection of jihadi militias. They include Ansar al-Sharia, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, the Sahara Brigade – which counts jihadis who fought in Syria among its members – and the Islamic Army, some units of which have sworn allegiance to Isis.
So if I understand this correctly, the group allied with Haftar is not interested in Islam in politics. This would roughly correspond to the attitude of el-Sisi in Egypt.
Libya Dawn, to carry on the comparison with Egypt, is rather like the Muslim Brotherhood. They are definitely interested in political Islam, but they are not like the Islamic State crowd. Islamic State seems to be a bizarre mix of psychopaths who enjoy beheading people, others who are convinced that this the End of Times and want to play their part, adventurers from the West who want join a war, and so on.
So there would definitely be some overlap between Libya Dawn and Islamic State. They are both fixated on Islam, differing only in how they should implement their program. Daraghi continues:
Some fear that just as Isis expanded among Syrian rebels who originally saw it as a potential partner in the fight against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Libya’s mainstream Islamists and their allied militias are forging dangerous partnerships with radical jihadis in their quest to win a civil war.
“Across the Arab world, you have some more mainstream Islamists thinking they have a confluence of political interests with radical extremists, whom they think they can co-opt and restrain,” said H.A. Hellyer, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution. “It’s a very dangerous game that hasn’t worked out well – and Libyans need to be very careful it doesn’t make their country a new hub for terrorism.”
Indeed, there is an ominous parallel in recent history: post-World War I Germany. Many conservatives thought they could ride on coattails of Hitler’s popularity but control him. That was a very serious mistake indeed.