Libyan Moderate Ahead of Islamists in Elections
The results of Libya’s first free elections in four decades reveal that former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril is beating his Muslim Brotherhood opponents, in contrast to the Islamist victories in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco after the Arab Spring protests.
Early polling station results show that Jibril, a moderate and former University of Pittsburgh political science professor, has won a clear majority, with some 80 percent of the vote in the capital of Tripoli, 60 percent in Benghazi in the east and a strong showing in the south.
Jibril formerly led Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), the rebel government that was based in Benghazi. Libyans said they had voted for him because of his Western education and his reputation as a pragmatist, notes the Guardian. A pizza parlor worker described Jibril as “a good man” who understands business” and “believes in national reconciliation.”
As the New York Times notes, tribal, family and community ties played a large part in Saturday’s vote: Jibril belongs to the Warfalla tribe, which includes about a million of Libya’s 6 million inhabitants.
After the capture and killing of Muammar al-Gaddafi, Jibril was pushed from his office of prime minister by rebels, who charged that he “spent too much time in Western capitals and neglected domestic needs in rebel-controlled territory,” says the New York Times. But the NTC itself then suffered a number of setbacks as it sought, and failed, to bring together the quarreling militias — including those from Misurata, who had played a key role in fighting Gaddafi’s forces — who control sections of Libya and found itself granting them posts and otherwise seeking their favor.
Results suggest that Misurata is one of the few cities to reject Jibril. Its rivalry with his Warfalla tribe goes back to before World War II, when the Warfalla killed a hero of Misurata.
Jibril’s apparent victory over the Islamists reflects the circumstances of Gaddafi’s autocratic and erratic rule, the New York Times notes:
But the Islamists conceded Sunday that they did not expect to dominate those seats, either. Repressed with exceptional cruelty by Colonel Qaddafi, Libya’s Islamists never developed the preaching and charitable networks that gave them a leg up over liberals in Tunisia or Egypt, to say nothing of the political expertise….
But at the same time that he demonized Islamists, Colonel Qaddafi muddied their identity as an opposition force by incorporating Islamic ideas and imagery into his own mythmaking. He banned alcohol and legalized polygamy, declaring Libya to be already in some senses an Islamic state.
Jibril has indicated his willingness to work with his political rivals. The Islamists lost even in Darnah, an eastern city considered one of their strongholds. But Jibril has reportedly already contacted one of the region’s politicians and a former Islamist fighter, Abdel Hakim el-Hasadi.
One of his immediate tasks will be to respond to a movement in Benghazi that seeks greater representation in the national congress of 200 and autonomy from the rest of Libya. Some had ransacked a polling station on Saturday, setting ballot papers on fire and killing two.
In response to criticisms that he is overly influenced by the West and too secular, Jibril had said in a recent television interview that people anywhere would describe him as a person who “goes to the mosque for Friday prayers, and we see that he prays.” Jibril has said that “we extend an invitation, continued as before, to other political forces to come together in one coalition under one banner.” In a reference to Islamists, he said that “there are no extremists.”
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Photo of children in Benghazi by Foreign Commonwealth Office