Setbacks for Islamists in Libya's elections

Submitted by Matthew on 11 July, 2012 - 3:55

The results of Libya’s first parliamentary elections since the fall of the regime indicate a victory for the National Forces Alliance (NFA) led by former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril.

The NFA is a loose conglomeration of parties (58 of them) centred around a liberal programme of economic transformation and political moderation, and is largely a product of the old National Transitional Council (NTC).

The heartland of the NTC was the original liberated zones of Benghazi and Cyrenaica, which makes it all the more surprising that hostility to the elections was most apparent in those areas rather than the militia ridden west and south where there have been ongoing tensions.

The electoral disruptions, far from being orchestrated by remnants of the old regime, have been a product of rising federalist interventions specifically in the east of the country where there have long been apprehensions about Tripolitanian rule and where monarchist and secessionist groups have some currency.

The very places where disruptions or active boycotts have been expected (the loyalist Bani Walid and Sirte) have been totally quiescent. Some commentators have noted that this is a consequence of two things.

Firstly, that Qaddafi had very little basis of popularity anyway. Once he was gone there was little appeal in restorationist tendencies.

Secondly, that the central elements of the old pro-Qaddafi population know that the future has turned against them and want some sort of political and economic stakehold in the new society. Largely distrusted by the general population, the revolutionary militias have now largely abandoned their policy of persecuting remnants of the old regime, and whatever support there was for Islamist politics there has not turned into a critical victory for the main Islamist party — Justice and Construction.

This is not to say that the NFA itself is a bastion of secularism and freedom of expression. It still stands for the maintenance of Shari’a law in the country and perceives itself as a force for traditionalist Islam in Libya. However its central struggle has been against the federalists and secessionists rather than for political Islam for which there is very little appetite in either Benghazi or Tripoli.

In parallel to this, there is no violent, terrorist response to the elections on behalf of remnants of the old regime, reminiscent of the Ba’athist resistance in Iraq. If the NFA can position itself as the vehicle of inclusion, justice and reconciliation then the power of both the revolutionary militia’s and the federalists will be reduced. It is very clear that the economic strategy of the NFA in terms of building links with international partners is popular in Libya, but this is really a maintenance of old economic relationships rather than Libya being brought for the first time into the global economy and the “hands of imperialism” — which is an old chestnut bandied around by those who would still maintain a commitment to the “anti-imperialist” Qaddafi.

There has been a large presence of women in the voting lines in the cities, and certainly the emergence of parliamentary multi-party democracy in Libya is to be supported. However, the fragile coalition of the NFA is assailed by a number of problems including the structural assimilation of the mass of migrant workers in Libya and labour struggles over the minimum wage, by geographical differences around decentralisation and federalism, and perhaps crucially by electoral struggles and the emergence of a “military solution” to democracy in other North African states.

Interestingly, NATO intervention in Libya seems to have captured the hearts and minds of much of the Libyan population and many others elsewhere and depressed their capacity to think about radical Islamist political directions. As an unintended consequence of intervention Libya looks, to the international community, like the opposite of a failed state and a success story for “humanitarianism”.

Let’s hope the indigenous and migrant working classes and women of Libya make the smug smiles slightly less comfortable as the months go on, and we see real class fractures and independent class politics developing against the Shari’a Liberals of the National Forces Alliance.

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