When evaluating the situation in Libya, one can only be optimistic. In spite of the ongoing unrest and insecurity, over 1.5 million of Libya’s eligible voters have registered to vote in the parliamentary elections on June 25. Some 1,628 candidates representing diverse ideological, political and religious persuasions are vying for the 200-seat chamber.
For the Islamist parties in particular, these elections – the third since the ouster of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi – will be decisive. Most will be facing an uphill battle to control the new parliament as they did the General National Congress (GNC). They had a sizeable following in the country but that has significantly diminished as a result of their dismal performance in the outgoing GNC. Many of the ills confronting the country, as well as the political and security paralysis have, justly or unjustly, been dumped at the Islamists’ doorstep.
A new experiment
Many Libyans enthusiastically support elections and this new experiment in democracy. What sets these elections apart from the previous ones, however, is that many Libyans do not know what they want – albeit, most know that they do not want radicalism.
Retired General Khalifa Haftar‘s war against Ansar al-Sharia in East Libya is very popular and according to the general, the campaign will not end until this group is physically eliminated – or until they relinquish their weapons and agree to live within a democratic system.
|People & Power – Libya: Renditions|
The Islamists in Libya can be divided into two groups. One group dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood is willing to endure a democratic transitional stage until they acquire the full reins of power and manoeuvre the country toward a caliphate. For this purpose, they fielded many candidates in all local, regional and national elections. Many of these candidates ran as independents and only after they were elected, did they declare their affiliation with the Brotherhood.
The other segment of the Islamists is dominated by the Takfiris, who completely reject the democratic process, free elections and any institution that does not adhere to their own interpretation of Islamic law. For these groups, any Muslim supporting the democratic process is viewed as a renouncer of Islam. Hundreds of people have been killed by gunfire and others by decapitation merely for advocating democracy or criticising their murderous practices.
Like chameleons, the Muslim Brotherhood has learned to accommodate and rapidly change strategies. Realising their popularity is on the wane, they no longer concentrate on garnering the largest vote, so they focus their effort on specific seats they are sure to win. This is what they did in the 2012 local elections.
They are pursuing the same strategy in these elections and if the turnout is low they will have garnered a solid bloc in the new parliament. However, their biggest problem is the emerging opposition. Their opponents are also now organising and many media outlets have taken it upon themselves to publish the list of candidates and their political affiliations. Indeed, liberal social media sites are replete with names of Islamists running for office as independents. Many of these sites warn their visitors to avoid voting for these candidates. Indeed in East Libya, there is widespread anger and hatred for the GNC and the Islamist parties controlling it – to such an extent that the candidates representing the East have been prevented from leaving to attend GNC meetings.
A yearning for normalcy
Targeted voting will give the Islamists a voice, but certainly not as loud a voice as they had before. If it is true that one never has a second chance at a first impression, then the Islamists made their first impression and it did not impress. They proved to be just as power hungry as all the other groups and did very little to distinguish themselves ethically or politically.
Under their tutelage, corruption and graft increased, security conditions deteriorated and incompetence became the norm – so much that Libyans have reached a breaking point. If these elections bring about a parliament that perpetuates the old ways, the country will very probably break up with the East leading the way.
Having said that, it must also be said that there is a yearning for normalcy, good governance and an end to incompetence in the country. Much of what is advocated by the Islamists is seen as alien to Libyan society along with foreign imports such as the Afghan-style hats and women’s chadors that have now made their way into Libya.
Libyans are looking for a certain degree of salvation in these elections and they will be sure to watch the process closely. Irrespective of the outcome, however, the mere fact that Libyans are still putting their faith in a democratic process which more than half the population has never experienced, speaks volumes about how far this society has progressed in a three-year period.
Mansour O El-Kikhia is a columnist, educator, and writer on international and Middle Eastern affairs.