Derived from two surveys conducted in Libya in 2014 and 2016, this report strives to heighten understanding of the country’s religious sector and its impact on governance and society. The findings—which are bolstered by the local knowledge of Libyan researchers—map the major religious trends, institutions, and actors in the country to describe how Libyans perceive the contribution of the religious sector to building peace and fostering justice and democracy.

Summary

  • Since the Libyan Political Accord was signed in December 2015, the country has had three governments. Religious discourse has become both politicized and a source of polarization.
  • Interviews conducted in 2014 and 2016 indicate that traditional religious actors could play a constructive role in mediation, reconciliation, and the democratic transition.
  • The most influential religious orientations were identified as the Muslim Brotherhood, jihadism, and Salafism. The surveys suggest that these are complex, overlapping, and dynamic.
  • Differences in beliefs do not necessarily predict who armed groups will fight for, with, or against. Local experiences and interests are more influential.
  • The most influential Libya leaders in terms of religion were identified as the grand mufti Saddiq al-Ghariani, Ali al-Salabi, and Abdel Hakim Belhaj. In 2014, two in three respondents thought that these leaders had a negative influence on peace and justice. By 2016, nine in ten did.
  • More than 150 other religious actors were also named as influential, 93 percent of them local, indicating a healthy diversity of decentralized religious leadership.
  • Most respondents felt that the grand mufti and his fatwa council were inappropriately engaging in partisan politics.
  • Despite such views, Libyan political parties still believe that religion has a role to play in public life and that sharia should be reflected in the constitution.
  • A majority of respondents in both 2014 and 2016 felt that traditional religious leaders could play a positive role in calling Libyans to democratic transition.
  • Joint tribal and traditional religious leader mediation is perceived to be the most effective form of local dispute resolution.
  • Given the potential for religious actors to promote democracy and reconciliation, the international community should engage and support constructive religious leaders and institutions.

About the Report

This report focuses on Libya’s religious sector and its current influence—positive and negative—on peacebuilding and the democratic transition there. Drawing on the results of surveys conducted in Libya in 2014 and 2016 by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the report is also informed by the local knowledge of researchers resident in Libya.

About the Authors

Palwasha L. Kakar is senior program officer for religion and inclusive societies at USIP, joining the Institute after four years with the Asia Foundation, where she was the Afghanistan director for Women’s Empowerment and Development. Zahra Langhi is the founding director of Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, a scholar of Islamic studies, and deeply involved in the ongoing Libyan peace process.

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