Libya’s Islamist rebel groups have attracted attention in the aftermath of the attack on the US consulate building in Benghazi last month, reminding observers that the NATO war there last year was not fought on behalf of secular freedom fighters.
Rebel fighters that the US and NATO aided in their air war to unseat Muammar Gadhafi still dominate throughout the country and most have refused to disarm and cede power to the fledgling government. But the rebel groups in the east, in particular, are voicing deep resentment at the Western powers and the post-Gadhafi Libya they’ve been given.
“The state deliberately ignores the fact that there is an Islamic renaissance,” Salem Dirbi, a veteran Islamist fighter, told Reuters. He thinks revolution was hijacked by Western powers and former Gadhafi loyalists.
“How do you expect us to have confidence in the state?” Dirbi asked. “They are putting in the same old people and just changing their titles to fool people.”
Dirbi comes from the notorious town of Derna, which holds hundreds of Islamist fighters, many with ties to al-Qaeda, and is noted for having sent record numbers of insurgents to fight US forces in Iraq.
“In Libya it’s only been a year and the idea of democracy and political parties is difficult for people to absorb. The people have not responded to this imported, packaged democracy. We don’t accept it. We have a religion that needs to be taken into account,” said Abdul Qader Azouz, a resident of Derna.
“There is now real fear in the east that it will suffer the same fate as under Muammar. I wish they could convince us of their vision and plan before they insist on asking us to hand over our weapons,” he said.
Other former fighters take a firmer stance against what they see as Western meddling. “These people are not fit to govern. We reject anyone who sits on the seat of power and follows a foreign agenda,” Yousef Jehani, a supporter of the Ansar al-Sharia Islamist group, told Reuters.
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