U.S. policymakers should move cautiously in dealing with Libya's new Islamist leadership, advises Time magazine correspondent Thomas P.M. Barnett. Although many of Libya's new leaders claim to hold democratic and "secularist" views, Washington "should not assume many of the rebel factions that played prominent roles deposing [Muammar] Qaddafi are beholden to values which resemble our own," he writes.
Many in Washington "ignore the long range and utterly anti-American, anti-Semitic, Salafist ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood, a most radical and militant-leading faction of which is poised to asset substantial influence over Libya from its base in Qatar," the veteran Time correspondent adds.
The Brotherhood and members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a jihadist organization aligned with al-Qaida, have been working to carve out key roles for themselves in the post-Gaddafi era. The LIFG's emir, Abdul Hakim Belhadj, served as Libyan rebels' military commander.
Last year, the Gaddafi government released Belhadj and other radicals from prison, with the dictator's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi insisting they were rehabilitated and therefore " no longer a danger to society." In 2009, LIFG leaders publicly recanted their affiliation with al-Qaida and their support for jihad. But it is questionable that LIFG operatives will consider themselves bound by any earlier pledge coerced by the Gaddafi regime.
Read more about the Islamist role in the Libyan revolution here.
Some who fought to overthrow Gaddafi are already having second thoughts about the new rulers. Libyans interviewed by the Washington Post complained bitterly about Libya's ruling Transitional National Council (TNC), saying its members are tainted by connections with the ousted dictator and made decisions without talking to the people.
"They killed Gaddafi's regime, but Gaddafi's culture, Gaddafi's mentality, is still in their mind," said Emad Almbsoot, an engineer affiliated with a nongovernmental organization that trains people to participate in democracy.
Abdullah Gilani, an architect who did volunteer work for the revolutionaries, said that when eastern Libya was liberated earlier this year, people felt the worse-case post-Gaddafi regime would be an improvement. Eight months later, he talks of leaving the country and warns of a second Libyan revolution to depose the new rulers.