In a radical shift, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has recently announced that it has transformed into a civil society under the name of “Revival and Renewal”. The Libyan branch of MB was established almost 7 decades ago (1948) as an affiliate of the umbrella movement in Egypt. This announcement comes in the context of radical changes in Libya and the Arab region.
This paper seeks to analyze the nature of this organizational shift by monitoring the motivations of the group, the local and regional contexts of this shift, and attempt to foresee future trajectories of the movement’s behavior and the impact of this announcement.
Contexts and motivations
The announcement of the Libyan offshoot of MB about a shift towards activity under the title of a civil society came in the context of an evolving local and regional context. Libya and the Arab region are going through new political arrangements that heralds a new stage in the form of relations different from the one the region has been going through since 2011 (the eruption of Arab uprisings). This is evident through the following:
If we accept that this declaration and estrangement are out of an ideological conviction, not a mere political maneuver, these shifting contexts have pushed the Libyan branch of MB to adopt a different path towards a national organization different than the “Brotherhood’s internationalism” and the principle of “politicizing Islam” which is the central idea on which MB’s ideology is based.
In addition to the objective contexts, there are several objective motivations that put the Libyan branch in front of the inevitable shift, notably:
While the circumstances surrounding the decision of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood are not clear thus far given the ambiguous announcement on the conversion of the group into an NGO, the future trajectories of this step - in light of the experiences of some peer Muslim Brotherhood offshoots – can be confined only to three major scenarios:
First scenario: The group is undertaking a real shift towards civil society activities focusing on preaching and charitable efforts while breaking up with political action and disengaging from the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. This scenario seems to be unlikely in short and medium terms since the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood totally conflicts with the idea of the separation of religion from politics as the Muslim Brotherhood is a political group in the first place. This idea was evident in the experiences of other Muslim Brotherhood offshoots in Tunisia (Ennahda), Yemen (Al Islah), and Europe (Union of Islamic Organizations) which have announced over the past years their disengagement from the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood and embracing the idea of separating religion and political life. However, all these announcements were only designed for domestic consumption, and were a tactic to evade sanctions imposed by some world countries on the Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Second scenario: The group undertakes changes only at the organizational level not at the political one. In other words, the group will operate as a civil society organization while continuing its political action under the framework of its preaching and social activities. However, this is unconceivable under the current circumstances in Libya as the group fears that its image might be damaged if it chooses to pursue this misleading strategy. This is completely true with elections in the country approaching through which the group hopes to get a good share in the state’s institutions.
Third scenario: The group moves away from a hierarchical organization towards a more horizontal one or decentralized networks (cluster structure). This feature has recently characterized the approach of Muslim Brotherhood offshoots all over the world. Since 2014, most groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood have implemented some changes in their structure away from the traditional hierarchical organization that usually combines political, religious, and charitable actions towards a more horizontal approach. Based on this new structure, the political wing takes the form of a political party, while other preaching, economic, and cultural activities are performed by separate organizations and societies. Still, all of these entities are intellectually interconnected and work towards one goal: enabling the organization as a whole. This new structure has first appeared in Turkey with the emergence of the Justice and Devolvement Party early this century. The approach has been evidently adopted by other Muslim Brotherhood offshoots in Morocco, Tunisia, and Europe in recent years. The purposes of this tactic include protecting these offshoots from security crackdowns that often target political wings of the group which will guarantee that other economic and religious wings are kept safe. Secondly, this new structure will enable the group to reach out more social sectors.
This last approach seems to be the most likely scenario in Libya. The experience of Muslim Brotherhood offshoots in both Tunisia and Turkey seems to have a big impact on the Libyan Islamic group. The Muslim Brotherhood organization in the country has started to implement this structural transformation over the past years as its political action now is carried out by the Justice and Construction Party. The substantial amount of capital the group has secured following the collapse of Gaddafi regime along with the financial support it receives from Ankara has enabled the group to create a big network of advocacy, charitable, trade and media organizations and societies in the country.
 “Libyan Muslim Brotherhood converts into NGO,” Anadolu Agency, 03/05/2021. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/libyan-muslim-brotherhood-converts-into-ngo/2227616
 “Libya’s GNA hands power to Government of National Unity,” the Arab Weekly, 16/03/2021. https://thearabweekly.com/libyas-gna-hands-power-government-national-unity
 “Vers une normalisation des relations entre l'Egypte et la Turquie,” France info, 10/05/2021. https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/afrique/politique-africaine/vers-une-normalisation-des-relations-entre-l-egypte-et-la-turquie_4614861.html
 “The Egyptian government designates the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization,” France 24, Dec. 25, 2013. https://bit.ly/3hyJs1y
 “The Muslim Brotherhood…Offshoots self-disengage to escape the central movement’s dilemma?”, Anadolu Agency, May 15, 2017. https://bit.ly/33WY5DW
 “The Muslim Brotherhood is eroding in Libya…collective resignations of its leadership in Az-Zawiyah”, Al-Arabiya net, Aug. 13, 2020. https://bit.ly/3v05GNH
 “The Muslim Brotherhood…Misrata dissolves itself”, Annahar, Oct. 22, 2020. https://www.annaharar.com/arabic/politics/arabi-world/almaghreb-alarabi/22102020090955292
 “Libyan Muslim Brotherhood elects a new chairman”, Al-Arab International, Oct. 7, 2015. https://bit.ly/3bFxr6y
 Ahmed Nadhif, “Tunisian Ennahda Movement reconsiderations: A fundamental shift or circumvention of current hardships?”, Al-Awan, Nov. 24, 2018. https://bit.ly/3ftmTsp
 George Essa, “From an Octopus to a Starfish…How the Muslim Brotherhood changes colors?” 24.ae website, May 11, 2018. https://24.ae/article/440913/
EPC | 12 Sep 2021
EPC | 23 Aug 2021
Suhaib Abdul Rahman | 19 Aug 2021