Project research report, Middle East Directions / Norwegian Institute for International Affairs, December 2020.
The academic literature has tended to divide the Salafis into three main categories – jihadi, political and quietist – and has distinguished them in terms of their ideological and methodological differences, notably pertaining to Salafi groups’ varying relationships with the state and political authority and their use of violence. What happens then when state institutions collapse, when there is no state authority or when the state authority is highly contested between different groups, none of which are able to definitively assert themselves over the others?
In a context of political upheaval and armed conflict, how do Salafis relate to the state and to ‘politics’? The developments in Libya between 2011 and 2019 provided an ideal opportunity to look into these questions. Actors that identify with Salafism have played important roles in Libya’s various stages of conflict and political transformation since 2011. However, they have reacted to these transformations in a way that to some extent blurs the lines conventionally drawn between Salafi currents.
Focusing on two currents – ‘political’ Salafism, represented by leading figures in the former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and ‘quietist’ Salafism, represented by the so-called ‘Madkhali’ Salafis – this paper analyses the two currents’ relationships to ‘politics’ and state institutions in times of turmoil. It counters the idea of a fault line between so-called ‘political’ and ‘apolitical’ Salafis and unpacks the different strategies deployed by the two groups to deal with state institutions, together with the political, albeit different, nature of the objectives that they have pursued.