Commentary

Libya's Elections

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

While the civil strife continues in Syria, Libyans have gone to the polls for the first time since the Arab Spring and the bloody demise of the Qaddafi regime. Taking many anxious commentators by surprise, the results favor secular-minded and moderate Islamist candidates, raising hopes that the country’s future might be brighter than had been feared. While there are many mixed explanations for why the Libyans eschewed the Islamist platforms that swept other Arab Spring countries, many are satisfied that — at least for now — the Libyans have chosen reconciliation over divisive ideologies.

In Libya, the elections, the way they were run and their ultimate outcome were greeted with jubilation.  As Tripoli Post’s Gada Mahfud notes “Regardless of who wins the seats Libyans have unanimously decided today that they will respect each other’s views and by taking this decision they have put the foundations that future generations of Libyans will build upon towards the creation of a Libya that we only dared dream of before. How far Libyans have come in one year and what unimaginable progress they have made....Libyans today proudly showcase its beauty and true worth to the world. As the Libyan people chant in the streets ‘put your head up high you are a free Libyan.’”

For Mohammad Azeemullah, the parliamentary elections were a complete success: “Truly the elation that the election has brought to the life of most Libyan people outdid all the delights put together in normal circumstance of events. It is also an assertion how people in general had been craving to see the day in a way it has come up to for them....The election of 2012 will certainly go a long way in history as it lays the foundation stone for democratic governance in Libya of which ecstasy surpasses all festivals ever marked by individuals in the country.”

Many are contrasting the elections with those in Egypt, in which the secular revolution vote was split and the more unified Islamists took the victory. Writing for the Egyptian daily Al Ahram, Gamal Nkrumah suggests the opposite occurred in Libya: “General elections in Libya were hailed as a landmark, a leap forward, and preliminary results claim that militant Islamists were elbowed out by liberals….The evolution of Islamist militancy in Libya has produced an extraordinary variety of ideological strands. However, none presumably appears to have impressed the bulk of Libyan voters. Libyan society, it seems, needs to be assured that the Islamists ensure that they are better equipped to make moral judgments than the Gaddafi regime had.”

In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Adel Al Toraifi seems to back this particular interpretation of the electoral outcome: “The outcome even expresses a popular tendency towards civil rule and unity, away from politicized religious slogans. It is true that there are those who voted for the Islamists, whether influenced by their slogans or for ideological motivations or reasons of self-interest, but the majority seemed closer to the model of civil democracy, or this is what we hope from reading the results....Are these changes permanent, or do they reflect a temporary pragmatic position dictated by current circumstances?...Amidst all this, hope seems to be hanging between Misrata and Sabratha, against the backdrop of all the turmoil that the region as a whole is witnessing.”

Ali Ibrahim, on the other hand, thinks the Libyans may have been warned off of Islamism by the Arab Spring results in Tunisia and Egypt: “All expectations and predictions had indicated that a belt would be established across North Africa, stretching from Egypt, across Libya, and into Tunisia, consisting of political Islamist parties, which have come to the fore in Egypt, Tunisia and likewise in Libya....If true, the initial results are contrary to the expectations and the general course taken by the elections in Egypt and Tunisia, so what happened in Libya? It is likely that the Libyans had the opportunity to observe and analyze the previous two experiences and then took the decision that they did not want something similar....If the political process goes smoothly in Libya following the election of the National Assembly — which will be the first step towards a modern Libyan state — then a promising future undoubtedly awaits the country.”

There are some who caution against declaring victory prematurely in a nation with more guns than people and dotted with semi-autonomous cities run by militias. The Gulf Today editorial, for example, is quick to point out that the “people of Libya face long way ahead for stability…. The deep Western involvement in the country could be one of the reasons for Libya not to have followed the example of post-rebellion Tunisia and Egypt. In any event, it is the choice of the people of Libya and the world has to respect it....However, Libya is far from stable. Even as the country voted, rival militiamen dug in their heels and maintained their ‘independence’ from the central government in Tripoli. Qadhafi is gone, but some who defected from the regime in its final days remain in power. That is one of the key sources of friction in the country.”

Finally, there is a sense among Libyans that what comes next is as important as what preceded it. Stressing the importance of civil engagement, Libya Herald’s Alaa Murabit asks: “What are our expectations for the newly elected national assembly? Will we, as citizens, be included in decisions, and given honest, clear and transparent answers, or again, be faced with corruption? ... Instead of sitting and debating the legitimacy of our newly elected officials, maybe it’s time for us, as Libyan citizens, to get ahead of our politicians — to understand our priorities for Libya, and how we expect the constitution to reflect them. There are many questions in the coming months, and as in every democracy it is the citizens responsibility, above anyone else, to ensure that their opinion is heard. After all, this is a democracy — this is what we fought for.”


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