Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, repressed under the regime of fallen strongman Muammar Qaddafi, has opened its first public congress inside the country for almost 25 years.Just to make it Islamist.
“This is a historic day for us and for the Libyan people,” its leader Suleiman Abdelkader told AFP at the opening late Thursday of the three-day congress in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Brotherhood officials said it was their first public meeting inside Libya in almost quarter of a century, although it met underground during Qaddafi’s rule for fear of reprisals or held their congress abroad.
The meeting of about 700 people was at a wedding hall in Benghazi, the eastern city where the revolt against Qaddafi began.
Officials of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, including Islamic Affairs Minister Salem el-Sheikli and Defense Minister Jalal al-Degheili, attended the opening in Benghazi.
The congress was due to elect a leader and discuss strategy, notably whether to form a political party, said Abdelkader.
The Brotherhood supports the idea of a “civil” state but founded on Islamic values, he said. “This country belongs to all its people and everybody must participate in its construction.”
As Libya emerges from a bloody civil war, many observers believe the next elections could pit religious political groups against secular parties, with better-organized Islamists such as the Brotherhood having a tactical advantage.
After so many years of secrecy, they said they were eager to show the Libyan public that there was nothing sinister about their group ̶ an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, that country's most popular and organized political force.
“There’s nothing secret. We’re not planning to destroy the country,” said Abdou Majid Saleh Musbah, 56, an engineer from Tripoli who joined the movement in 1979.
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