In Aref Ali Nayed, Libya sees a ray of hope
Libya is still an ungovernable mess in its 8th year since the removal of Muammar Gaddafi.
The fragmented, ever-fluid civil war is no closer to resolution now than at any other time since 2011, and Libya remains a failed state despite all the competing state institutions the different players are trying to build in parallel.
Add to this mix Libya’s long-standing history of politicized Islam, and you seemingly have the perfect soil for a cancer like IS to fester and thrive.
Yet, for all their inability to agree about much else, Libyans do deserve credit for the way they have handled the IS threat. Libya became the secondary territorial claim of IS back in 2014, just after the heartland of eastern Syria and north-western Iraq.
The response was swift. All other factions agreed that IS needed to be rooted out of Libya, and this was achieved relatively quickly and thoroughly -- within just a couple of years. There remain, of course, fighters associated with IS scattered across the country’s sparsely populated hinterlands, but today there is little trace of an IS “territory” in Libya, let alone a “state.”
What remain present, however, are the fertile soils of a broken country, the flowing waters of political and armed Islam, and those scattered seeds of IS fighters in the hinterlands. Jihadism, whether bearing the IS logo or not, remains one of the most immediate and future threats radiating out of Libya.
The only person who has declared his candidacy for the presidency of the UN-backed Tripoli claimant state has made the elimination of IS a central objective of his leadership.
Aref Ali Nayed -- a Canada-educated Islamic scholar, philosopher, and Libyan ambassador to the UAE is being touted by analysts as the best hope that Libya may yet be healed and emerge as a peaceful and prosperous country.
And it seems that Ali Nayed has the profile and the experience that a troubled country like Libya rarely dares dream for in a potential leader.
He is deeply rooted both in civil society and in democratic politics in Libya, has held high office despite all odds, and has achieved this without cultivating dubious connections to Islamist militias -- a genuinely impressive feat, given the current state of Libyan politics.
His professional background is in academia, business, philanthropy, and community organization. A perfect combination for a political leader anywhere, let alone in a state with such acute need of proper leadership.
Specific to Libya, however, is that his academic background is in Islamic theology. In a country dominated by Islamist militias, where tribal politics and personal rivalries are often couched in an Islamic veneer, Ali Nayed is a man who can school any preacher or militia leader in the finer points of Islam.
The candidate also brings with him a vision of how the fractious and intensely competitive Libyans can channel their energies towards peacefully building a vibrant and successful country together, rather than collectively tear it apart -- and more importantly, he brings with him a detailed plan on how he will pursue that vision.
Ali Nayed takes an inclusive view of localist Libyan politics, and all of its idiosyncrasies, and an inclusive view of Islam and divergent theological views and debates.
He takes democracy to mean that all this diversity must be given expression -- all constituent traditions and cultures of Libya must have a voice, and must have the autonomy to express themselves politically at the local level.
But none must have the power to over-impose itself upon the others, or on the national conversation. The purposes and mandate of the central government will be to uphold the peace between all these traditions and all the locales, and enable a discourse of negotiation for mutual benefit for all Libyans of all persuasions.
If there is a vision of politics that can unite Libya and Libyans in a peaceful manner, this is it. And this is the manner of politics which Libya must pursue.
No party in the Libyan civil war is strong enough to impose the peace. The path towards a peaceful and united Libya cannot, in practice, be but one of reconciliation and cooperation.
If this is achieved, the soil will be rendered barren for violent Islamism. And led by an Islamic scholar with the pedigree and credentials of Ali Nayed, Libya will also stem the waters of politicized Islam which would feed that soil.
All that would remain would be those scattered seeds. But Ali Nayed has also made it a top priority to physically remove all remnant traces of IS from the country -- a task which will be much easier when Libyans stop fighting each other and turn their attention to these corrupting foreign influences.
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim. This article was first published on Al-Arabiya News.