TRIPOLI, LIBYA // Libya's interior minister resigned yesterday after being criticised for not doing enough to curb a surge of attacks on Sufi Muslim shrines and mosques, an aide said.
Attackers, described as ultra-conservative Islamists by some officials, bulldozed two sites sacred to Sufi Muslims in the western city of Zlitan and the capital Tripoli on Friday and Saturday.
Libya's General National Congress, the country's newly-elected assembly, called an emergency meeting late on Saturday and criticised government security forces for failing to stop the assaults. "(Interior) Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al submitted his resignation in protest against the unacceptable words from the national congress," his aide Ziad Muftah said.
"The resignation has not been accepted by the prime minister's office yet." Hardline Sunni Islamists are implacably opposed to the veneration of tombs of revered Muslim figures, saying that such devotion should be reserved for God alone.
The Sufi sect, which practises a mystical form of Islam and has played a historic role in the affairs of Libya, has increasingly found itself in conflict with Qatari- and Saudi-trained Salafist preachers who consider it heretical.
Dozens of protesters responded to calls on internet social networks and took to the streets of the capital yesterday to denounce the destruction of the mausoleums.
"Libya is not Afghanistan!" shouted one woman protester, referring to the destruction by the Taliban of that country's famous Buddha statues at Bamiyan.
The demonstrators marched from Algeria Square in the centre of Tripoli towards the ruins of the Al-Shaab Al-Dahman mausoleum several hundred metres away, where debris from the demolition was still being cleared away.
Members of the security forces had closed the road to traffic.
"We reject extremism," "No to the destruction of monuments" and "Islam rejects tombs being profaned" read some of the slogans on placards carried by protesters.
Abderrazak Al Badri, president of the local council in Tripoli, said security was being boosted around other mausoleums and also museums as security forces were alerted to extremist threats against the country's heritage.
"All the museums have been closed, and the main monuments have been protected," he said.
"We carried out the revolution to found a state of law and institutions, not to instal chaos."
The high security committee comprises ex-rebels who fought Muammar Qaddafi's forces last year in the conflict that ended in the dictator's death last October.
The rebels had taken over security in the country after the fall of Kadhafi's regime before they were integrated into the ministry of interior's forces.