Libya’s Defeated Islamists

TRIPOLI – “We certainly did not expect the results, but...our future is certainly better than our present and our past,” said Sami al-Saadi, the former ideologue of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and the founder of the political party al-Umma al-Wasat, which finished third in Central Tripoli during Libya’s recent parliamentary election. The man whom Taliban leader Mullah Omar once called the “Sheikh of the Arabs,” and who authored the LIFG’s anti-democracy manifesto The Choice is Theirs, accepted the apparent victory of Libya’s more liberal forces.

Indeed, the results raised eyebrows, even of those analysts who did not expect an Islamist landslide. In the electoral district that includes Derna, commonly viewed as an Islamist stronghold, the liberal-leaning National Forces Coalition (NFC), a grouping of more than 60 parties and hundreds of local civil-society organizations, won 59,769 votes, while the Justice and Construction Party (JCP) of the Muslim Brothers (MB) received only 8,619. The liberal-leaning Central National Trend (CNT) finished third, with 4,962 votes.

In the impoverished western district of Abu Selim, where many Islamists are seen as local heroes due to their sacrifices under Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime, the NFC swept the field with 60,052 votes, defeating all six Islamist parties, which received a combined total of less than 15,000 votes. Overall, liberal-leaning parties finished first in 11 of Libya’s 13 electoral districts, with the NFC winning ten and the CNT taking one.

To be sure, the results will affect only 80 of the 200 seats in the constituent assembly, whose mandate is to appoint a prime minister, government, and a committee to draft the constitution. The other 120 seats are assigned to individual candidates, who are likely to be local notables, independents with strong tribal affiliations, and, to a lesser extent, a mix of Islamist and liberal politicians.