Libyan election results buck trend of post Arab-Spring Islamist success

Originally published in barnabasaid

An alliance of parties considered broadly liberal and secular has stemmed the tide of success for Islamists in post-Arab Spring politics by winning the most seats in the Libyan election.

The National Forces Alliance (NFA), a coalition of more than 40 smaller parties headed by ex-interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril, won 39 of the 80 seats reserved for political parties. The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party (JCP) took 17 seats, while the Islamist National Party won none.

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The surprise results of the first election in Libya since the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi last August were officially announced on Tuesday (16 July). Islamist parties were expected to emerge triumphant following the success of their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt in post-Arab Spring elections. It has been suggested, however, that Libyans, seeing the hard-line stance that Islamists in those countries have taken, were deterred from choosing similar candidates in their own country.

But the full make-up of the 200-member General National Assembly is yet to be determined: the remaining 120 seats will be filled by independent members, who are likely to hold the balance of power as they align themselves with the elected parties.

JCP leader Mohammed Sawan said that his party could therefore become the leading force once the results for independent seats, which will rely on connections and social standing, come in.

He accused Mr Jibril, who was a senior official and economist in the former regime before joining the uprising against Gaddafi, of “tricking” voters with disingenuous commitments to Islam:

Jibril did not present himself to the Libyan people as a liberal. He presented himself as having an Islamic reference… Libyans voted for Jibril as he was considered an Islamist too.

Mr Jibril has rejected characterisations of the NFA as secular and liberal, but there is clearly a gap between its stance and that of the JCP. While not “secular” by Western standards, the NFA is certainly more moderate, stating that sharia should be the main source of legislation in Libya, but adding that all religions and sects should be respected.

Mr Sawan said: “To them Islamic reference means to establish Islamic rituals, that some personal status laws are sharia-based, but other areas have nothing to do with Islam… Our view is that Islam is a complete way of life.”

The assembly will have legislative powers and will choose the first elected government – to replace the National Transitional Council – since Gaddafi came to power in 1969. It remains to be seen to what extent Islam will shape the new body’s decisions, though the initial results are encouraging for the country’s very small Christian minority.  

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