Following its 2011 revolution, Libya has struggled to establish a democratic rule of law as it navigates the political divisions sowed through the decades-long bloody reign of Muammar Gaddafi. Religion, per se, had not been seen as a major source of conflict in a country that is 97% Sunni Muslim.
Roaming jihadist groups, however, would also turn out to threaten the stability and security of post-Gaddafi Libya, with such attacks as the high-profile 2012 assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. And now, since the start of the year, the Islamist threat has returned, first with the killing of Westerners — including the execution-style slaying of a British oil worker and his New Zealander fiancée on a beach in January — and the targeted murder this week of a group of Egyptian Christians.
Seven Arab Christians from neighboring Egypt were killed on a beach outside of Benghazi on Monday. It is not clear whether their murders — also execution-style — are linked to that of the Western couple in January, or the murder of an American evangelical school teacher, who was shot to death in Benghazi while out for a run.
Sources have reported that the seven Egyptian Christians were abducted from their homes by men walking door-to-door, inquiring if the residents were Muslim or Christian.
The accusation that Arab Christians were somehow allied with the West has long plagued Arab Christians in places such as Lebanon and Egypt. Sporadic violence against Christians has continued, including the burning of churches in post-Arab Spring Egypt, where Coptic Christians are a deeply rooted minority estimated to represent about 10% of the population.
Libya, however, is a country with no significant indigenous Christian population. These latest murders of fellow Arabs who are Christian may be the work of a jihadist group looking for non-Muslim “outsider” victims, whose deaths will cast a shadow over the Libyan government’s struggle to present a united front.
It may be an indication that Christian Arabs are now as permissible and as high-profile targets as the foreigners previously preferred by jihadist groups in their terror-sowing bids for notoriety. In any case, it is an indication that “Arabness” — a shared cultural and linguistic heritage — is not enough protection today for those facing the lawless elements in post-revolution Libya.
Photo: Andreas Wahra