For decades, bearded men in Libya were afraid to walk in the streets or go to the mosque, worried that to be seen as an Islamist would land them in prison, or worse.
As Libya's leader, Muammar Gaddafi regarded Islamists as the greatest threat to his authority, and he ordered thousands of them detained, tortured and, in some cases, killed. The lucky ones fled the country in droves. But with Gaddafi now in hiding, Islamists are vying to have a say in a new Libya, which they say should have a system based on Islamic law.
Although it went largely unnoticed during the uprising that toppled Gaddafi last month, Islamists were at the heart of the fight, many as rebel commanders. Now some are clashing with secularists within the rebels' Transitional National Council, prompting worries among some liberals that the Islamists — who still command the bulk of fighters and weapons — could use their strength to assert an even more dominant role.
Although Gaddafi's government tolerated little in the way of activism, Libya's Islamist groups appear to have emerged from his reign as the best-organised among political groups, and secularists among the country's new leaders appear determined not to alienate them.
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