This paper examines the origin and the relationship between Islamist and non-Islamist political trends in Libya, highlighting the development of the contestation between the two before and after the fall of Gaddafi’s rule. The relationship appears to be that of a contestation between Islamists and liberals but this may be misleading. Islamists are not united but they share an adherence to the establishment of a Muslim society and some form of a khilafa. However, non-Islamists may not easily be identified as “on current.” Indeed, the “current” includes an array of political factions of various dispensations with some not necessarily subscribing to liberal models of democracy. Some belong to pre-Gaddafi-era political parties or were political and human rights’ activists during Gaddafi’s reign. They range from leftist, nationalist, and liberal orientations to populist Arab nationalist forces (including the Ba’th, Pan-Arabists, and others with socialist or communist orientations). When the uprising took place in 2011, the positions each trend took differed before some tactical unity was deemed necessary. When the regime fell, however, differences remerged and became more evident once the transitional structures were put in place. Just before and during the first elections in 2012, Islamists broke ranks with their struggle comrades and fired their cannons at the leaders of the liberal, nationalist, and other elements within the non-Islamist orientations. Islam then became crucial in political expression and rhetoric, especially for Islamist actors. Focusing on the development of this contestation, this paper analyzes the reaction of both Islamist and non-Islamist trends to the policies and tactics adopted by each side in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising and the post-Gaddafi phase. It suggests that although ideology, specifically references to Islam, became crucial in the political contention between Islamists and non-Islamists, the cleavage was not entirely ideological, as both trends considered the Islamic identity of Libya central to their political programs. The interviews with leading representatives of both trends that the author conducted for the purpose of writing this article confirm such a view on the role of ideology in the contestation. As the following discussion indicates, ideology is evidently part and parcel of each sides’ tools, ready to be employed against the other. However, when it does not suit all their purposes, they claim ideology has no role, offering insights into the instrumental and tactical approach to the ongoing contestation of both sides. The article therefore examines the struggle between the two factions as a political competition for the control of resources and positions of power, yet it also argues that ideology and ideas have a role to play, as they constitute the instruments deployed in this struggle, which has, with foreign involvement and backing of different sides, reduced Libya to a “failed state.” In fact although ideological contraposition figures in the contestation, political factionalism and contention in post-2011 were actually fuelled by political factors related to the struggle over access to power and resources, which are instrumental in enabling each side to shape the future state and its political order according to their plans. The struggle between Islamists and non-Islamists may have been the most visible, but it is certainly not the most significant factor in explaining the political dynamics and contention in the country since the fall of Gaddafi.

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