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Sep 15

Written by: Diana West
Thursday, September 15, 2011 4:15 AM 

If a tree falls in a forest  -- no, if a bunch of al Qaeda and Hezbollah "flickers" seize power of the ninth largest oil state with NATO and US support -- will anyone take notice?

Not the New York Times and pals -- until it's too late.

From today's Old, Grey (Blind) Lady, Page One:

"Islamists' Growing Sway Raises Questions for Libya"

TRIPOLI, Libya — In the emerging post-Qaddafi Libya, the most influential politician may well be Ali Sallabi, who has no formal title but commands broad respect as an Islamic scholar and populist orator who was instrumental in leading the mass uprising.

The most powerful military leader is now Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the former leader of a hard-line group once believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.

"Once believed"? What a deceptively fuzzy term to use given that the US State Department, in its 2008 rundown of terrorist organizations, describes a 2007 "merger" between Belhaj's "hard-line group" (the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) and al Qaeda!

This same "merger," not incidentally, was announced by Al Qaeda's Zawahiri. Indeed, as this 2005 Jamestown Foundation paper argues it was Qaddafi's opposition to the jihadist LIFG that changed his whole international footing. Jamestown writes: The internal challenge the LIFG posed to Qaddafi's rule led him to "abandon his quixotic defiance of the United States and join the Bush administration's war on terror, while the prospect of a LIFG takeover in Libya has facilitated American and European forgiveness of past transgressions."

Don't look now, but with massive American and European military and civilian support, that once-dreaded LIFG takeover of Libya is now in progress. It must be pretty far along if even the New York Times is taking notice.        

The growing influence of Islamists in Libya raises hard questions about the ultimate character of the government and society that will rise in place of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s autocracy. The United States and Libya’s new leaders say the Islamists, a well-organized group in a mostly moderate country, are sending signals that they are dedicated to democratic pluralism. They say there is no reason to doubt the Islamists’ sincerity.

How moderate is a country in which thousands of rioters stormed the Italian consulate  in 2006 because an Italian minister back in Italy wore a t-shirt with a cartoon of Mohammed on it? Or that sent more jihadists to fight Americans in Iraq per capita than any other country in the world, including Saudi Arabia? As for the "Islamists'" "sincerity," how about the fact that Belhaj, now commander of Tripoli, renounced violence against Qaddafi's regime as a condition of his release from prison last year? That was really and truly "sincere."

But as in Egypt and Tunisia, the latest upheaval of the Arab Spring deposed a dictator who had suppressed hard-core Islamists, and there are some worrisome signs about what kind of government will follow. It is far from clear where Libya will end up on a spectrum of possibilities that range from the Turkish model of democratic pluralism to the muddle of Egypt to, in the worst case, the theocracy of Shiite Iran or Sunni models like the Taliban or even Al Qaeda.

NYT subscribers should get their money back for this paragraph alone. Turkey, now in full battle cry against Israel, approximates the jihad model of caliphate-restoration, not the model of democratic pluralism. Egypt, too, at least from the smoking ashes of assorted Arab-Spring-assaulted Christian churches and the Israeli embassy in Cairo. One slim ray of sunshine that still might emerge from the region is that these Islamic points along the 'spectrum" will ultimately duel each other over where to put the capital  of coming caliphate.

Islamist militias in Libya receive weapons and financing directly from foreign benefactors like Qatar; a Muslim Brotherhood figure, Abel al-Rajazk Abu Hajar, leads the Tripoli Municipal Governing Council, where Islamists are reportedly in the majority; in eastern Libya, there has been no resolution of the assassination in July of the leader of the rebel military, Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, suspected by some to be the work of Islamists.

Mr. Belhaj has become so much an insider lately that he is seeking to unseat Mahmoud Jibril, the American-trained economist who is the nominal prime minister of the interim government, after Mr. Jibril obliquely criticized the Islamists.

For an uprising that presented a liberal, Westernized face to the world, the growing sway of Islamists — activists with fundamentalist Islamic views, who want a society governed by Islamic principles — is being followed closely by the United States and its NATO allies.

No, that "liberal, Westernized face" what "the world" (read: NATO and the US) willfully chose to see. In March, only seven of the 31 members of the rebels' NTC were even known to "the world" -- which was enough for "the world" to recognize the NTC even as reports of the jihad-links were already surfacing, particularly in the European press, which reporter John Rosenthal jumped on even as the US largely ignored the whole ugly story. It just got worse.

“I think it’s something that everybody is watching,” said Jeffrey D. Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, visiting here on Wednesday.

Oh no, not Feltman again. Mark his words of August 22, 2011:

"The overwhelming vision that we are hearing from people across Libya, from civil society, from the government, from tribal leaders, is that they want a Libya that is modern, that is secular, that is unified -- independent Libyans controlling Libya's future in order to ensure that a moderate, secular Libya is the one that emerges from 42 years of Gaddafi's tyranny."

“First of all the Libyan people themselves are talking about this.” The highest-ranking American official to visit Libya since Colonel Qaddafi’s fall, Mr. Feltman was optimistic that Libya would take a moderate path.

“Based on our discussions with Libyans so far,” he said, “we aren’t concerned that one group is going to be able to dominate the aftermath of what has been a shared struggle by the Libyan people.”

Sounds like his  "overwhelming vision" has already popped.

Mr. Sallabi, in an interview, made it clear that he and his followers wanted to build a political party based on Islamic principles that would come to power through democratic elections. But if the party failed to attract widespread support, he said, so be it.

“It is the people’s revolution, and all the people are Muslims, Islamists,” Mr. Sallabi said. Secularists “are our brothers and they are Libyans.”

“They have the right to offer their proposals and programs,” he said, “and if the Libyan people choose them I have no problem. We believe in democracy and the peaceful exchange of power.”

Many Libyans say they are not worried. “The Islamists are organized so they seem more influential than their real weight,” said Usama Endar, a management consultant who was among the wealthy Tripolitans who helped finance the revolution. “They don’t have wide support, and when the dust settles, only those with large-scale appeal, without the tunnel vision of the Islamists, will win.”

Yet an anti-Islamist, anti-Sallabi rally in Martyrs’ Square on Wednesday drew only a few dozen demonstrators. ...

Gee, how does Jeffrey Feltman account for that?

Some are concerned that the Islamists are already wielding too much power, particularly in relation to their support in Libyan society, where most people, while devout, practice a moderate form of Islam in which individual liberties are respected.

Mr. Sallabi dismissed those fears, saying Islamists would not impose their traditionalist views on others. “If people choose a woman to lead, as president, we have no problem with that. Women can dress the way they like; they are free.”

Adel al-Hadi al-Mishrogi, a prominent businessman who began raising money for the anti-Qaddafi insurgents early in the revolution, is not convinced by the Islamists’ declarations of fealty to democratic principles. He pointed to a well-organized Islamist umbrella group, Etilaf, which he said had pushed aside more secular groupings.

“Most Libyans are not strongly Islamic, but the Islamists are strongly organized, and that’s the problem,” Mr. Mishrogi said. “Our meetings go on for hours without decisions. Their meetings are disciplined and right to the point. They’re not very popular, but they’re organized.”

So were the Bolsheviks.

He complains that Etilaf and Mr. Sallabi are the ones who are really running things in Libya now. Others say the picture is much more diverse and chaotic than Mr. Mishrogi suggests, although it is true that Etilaf, with no fixed address and still apparently operating underground, continues to issue decrees of all sorts as if it were some sort of revolutionary guide.

“All offices here must make sure that they are headed by an acceptable person within seven days of this notice,” read a leaflet pasted to the doors of offices throughout Tripoli Central Hospital, dated Sept. 3 and signed, simply, Etilaf.

What's an "acceptable person"?

“They are behind everything,” Mr. Mishrogi said.

Youssef M. Sherif, a prominent Libyan writer and intellectual, said: “Every day the Islamists grow stronger. When there is a parliament, the Islamists will get the majority.”

“Abdel Hakim Belhaj is in effect the governor of Tripoli just because he was elected by an Islamist militia,” Mr. Sherif said. Echoing debates in Egypt, Mr. Sherif argued for a longer transition to elections than the planned eight months, to give liberals a better chance to organize.

The growing influence of the Islamists is reflected in their increased willingness to play a political role. Until recently the Islamists have kept a low profile, and even many secular Libyan officials have expressed a reluctance to criticize them, saying they should focus instead on the common enemy while Colonel Qaddafi remains on the loose.

That seems to be changing. After the interim government’s acting prime minister, Mr. Jibril, appeared recently in Tripoli and indirectly criticized politicking by the Islamists as premature with a war still in progress, Mr. Belhaj and Mr. Sallabi began agitating for his replacement.

“Jibril will be gone soon,” one aide to Mr. Belhaj said. ...

Not an "acceptable person."

“There will be attempts by some parties to take over; it’s only natural,” said one prominent official with the Transitional National Council, who spoke anonymously so as not to alienate Islamists. “And definitely Etilaf is trying to increase its influence. And we’re hearing much more from the Islamists in the media because they are more organized and they are more articulate.” ...

Fathi Ben Issa, a former Etilaf member who became an early representative on the Tripoli council, said he quit his position after learning that the Muslim Brotherhood members who dominate that body wanted to ban theater, cinema and arts like sculpture of the human form. “They were like the Taliban,” he said. “We didn’t get rid of Qaddafi to replace him with such people.” The final straw, he said, came when Etilaf began circulating a proposed fatwa, or decree, to bar women from driving.

I love this "B-matter." This is a breakaway story right here, in one of the final graphs of the story.

Headline: "Muslim Brotherhood dominates Tripoli council" Lede: According to Fathi Ben Issa, a former member of the shadowy radical "Islamist" group now exerting a fundamentalist Islamic influence over civil affairs in Libya, the MB members who dominate the Tripoli council, led by al-Qaeda operative Abdel Hakim Belhaj, want to ban theater, cinema and arts such as sculpture of the human form. This has  sparked concerns that the Libyan rebels have more in common with the Taliban and the Ayatollah Khomeini than with Islamic modernizers such as the deposed Shah of Iran....

Most Libyans are quick to bristle at suggestions that their own Islamists might one day go the way of Iran, where after the fall of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stomped out a short-lived liberal government by denouncing democracy as un-Islamic.

Mr. Sallabi said he hoped Libyans could find a leader on the model of George Washington, whom he had been reading about lately. “After his struggle he went back to his farm even though the American people wanted him to be president,” Mr. Sallabi said. “He is a great man.”

They do lay it on thick, don't they?

Referring to Mr. Sallabi, Mr. Ben Issa, who said he has received death threats since breaking with the Islamists, retorted: “He is just hiding his intentions. He says one thing to the BBC and another to Al Jazeera. If you believe him, then you don’t know the Muslim Brothers.”

What was that again?

He says one thing to the BBC and another to Al Jazeera. If you believe him, then you don’t know the Muslim Brothers.”

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