(Restores dropped words in headline)
* Al-Sallabi gained influence with ties to Qatar
* Opponents suspect he wants strict Islamist rule
* Analysts monitor fault lines between militias
By Barry Malone
TRIPOLI, Oct 10 A prominent and influential
Libyan Islamist cleric, returning to his native land after the
overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, has demanded a role for "moderate"
Islam in politics.
"We call for a moderate Islam," Ali Al-Sallabi said at a
meeting late on Sunday that included supporters and opponents.
"But you all have to understand that Islam is not just about
punishment, cutting hands and beheading with swords."
Though he has no formal political role, Al-Sallabi has
become a hugely significant voice in Libyan affairs because he
is close to the government of Qatar, an influential backer of
interim rulers the National Transitional Council(NTC).
He also is a close associate of Tripoli's military commander
Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a rising -- and increasingly divisive --
Islamist figure in post-Gaddafi Libya.
Some Libyans, including several at the meeting, suspect that
Al-Sallabi favours introducing a strict form of Islamic law, or
sharia, in a country that has long disavowed militant Islam.
Qatar is a super-rich nation with a tiny population of about
350,000 nationals living under conservative Islamic rule. Its
role in the region dwarfs its population, including giving
financial and military support to the war on Gaddafi.
Since the fall of Tripoli on Aug. 23, Sallabi has emerged as
a prominent spokesman for groups of Islamists unhappy about what
they see as attempts by some NTC leaders to exclude them from
It was not clear whether he was back in Libya permanently or
would return to his temporary base in Qatar.
Sallabi, who was jailed by Gaddafi in the 1980s for
opposition activities, said that though Islam and politics could
not be separated in Libya, he had earned his public voice only
because he was a Libyan citizen.
"I believe that Islam covers all, including politics," he
said. "In the past we were deprived from implementing the
principles of Islam. I am a religious person, I am also a Libyan
citizen. I have my say with regard to the political issue."
Several members of the crowd -- some of them Islamic
scholars -- berated Al-Sallabi, telling him that religious
leaders had no place in politics.
"The Islamists are a political group that has used the
religion as a reference and turned it into an ideology," Faraj
Aby Al-Esha, a longtime critic of Gaddafi who has also recently
returned to the country, told Al-Sellabi.
"The political game depends on lies, conspiracies, and
deception. Forcing religion into this game is a serious issue."
The NTC has been at pains to assure its Western allies that
Libya will not become a centre of militancy now that
anti-Islamist leader Gaddafi has gone.
Its leaders say they will hold elections and build a
democratic society, which though based on Islamic law, will
respect civil and individual rights.
Several Libyan analysts say they are worried fault lines are
opening up between the Islamist-run Tripoli Military Council,
which has nominal control over the city and is also believed to
be backed by Qatar, and groups loyal to interim Prime Minister
Mahmoud Jibril, a Western-trained technocrat who Al-Sallabi has
called on to resign.
Al-Sallabi told the meeting he had lambasted Jibril only
because of his "professional capabilities and performance", not
because he did not share his religious views.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)