The tragic assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was the latest in a series of attacks by the country’s increasingly active Salafis. In late August, armed Salafi groups demolished Sufi shrines, mosques, and mausoleums in Tripoli, Misrata, and Zliten. Earlier this year, Salafis desecrated British World War II graves, attacked the Tunisian consulate over an art exhibit in Tunis they deemed offensive, bombed the offices of the International Red Cross, and detonated an improvised explosive device at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. But such attacks are hardly proof of Salafism’s growing influence over the country. Rather, they are symptoms of an intense re-composition and fractionalization of the movement, between quietist, “politico,” and militant strands. More importantly, they reveal the Salafis’ anguished search for relevance in a country that is already socially conservative, but that has soundly rejected dogmatic political actors in favor of technocratic ones.
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