The recent news, “Libyan liberals stunned the region and the West,” makes headlines of Libya’s first free general elections post-el-Gadhafi. The latest results coming from Libya seem to favor the Alliance of National Forces, led by an American-educated sixty-year-old political scientist, Professor Mahmoud Jibril. The Alliance is described as secular and liberal — he delivered a campaign message like a political science course with facts and method. According to news reports, the elections went smoothly and Libyans looked upon the democratic festival as a joyful time in their history. However, Libya remains in a dire state, and the ghost of a civil war still haunts the minds of the population.
The voting turnout was over 60% of registered voters, and this is encouraging, particularly at the grassroots level. Libyans are enthusiastic about the future of their country, despite the lack of principals of a civil nation-state, political parties, labor unions and independent political movements. Because of the weirdness of el-Gadhafi with his Green Book and the fantasy of the republic of the masses (el-Jamaheria), they are willing to found a functioning civil society like their neighboring Arab countries, such as Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. This allows us to draw an intellectual parallel between these three countries’ liberals and why the liberals in these countries are failing. As the most secularist countries in the Arab world, they have a long tradition of structured political militancy in their nationalist movements and civil and political rights struggle against the regimes post-independence.
The Libyan liberals’ victory was a surprise to the Arab political observers, like a spark in the Arab Winter of December, 2010. It is true, Libya is a unique case in the region in terms of its political landscape. It is the most traditional and conservative society in the region, so these observers and analysts were ready to watch the Islamists’ snowball roll up in Libya. What happened then to this “pious” country’s people to elect liberals? The Libyan liberals, unlike the Algerians, Tunisians and Egyptians, did not focus on intellectual value such as secularism, nor question the society’s value system. On the contrary, they fought the Islamists with their own rhetoric, validated the Sharia law as its main source of legislation, and formatted the Islamists’ hard drive. Also, the Libyan liberals did not appear to the population like elitists, and more importantly did not look at the Hijabeyat (veiled women) as retro. Furthermore, the majority of Libyan Berberists (Imazighen) did not question the Islamisty of Libya like their fellow Berbers in Algeria, who, instead of reviving the Berber identity as it should be, are reviewing the regions’ history.
In fact, Libya did not suffer the cultural alienation imposed by the colonizer and the heavy westernizing influence that took place in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. So the local elite stayed intellectually conformist, despite their western education. It is true Islam is a major social force in Libya. Even under forty-three years of el-Gadhafi’s narcissistic rule, a mélange of Nasserism and schism, he kept Libya “virtuous.” For instance, during the Gadhafi era, Libyans weren’t content with him messing up their minds and faith during the month of Ramadhan and the observance of Eïd el-Kebir (the Sacrifice of Abraham), so they fasted and celebrated on a different day from the rest of the region. Also the Libyan liberals seem to have “got it” and they are trying to avoid the mistakes of the secularist Arab leaders of the 60′s (the Gadhafis, Boureguibas, Boumediènnes and the Gamels), who made the bed of the Islamists. Today the Arab liberals would do well to attend Professor Jabril’s Political Party Theory course.
Now, when we say liberals in Libya are winning, it does not necessarily mean secularists like we know in the West, and in particular in Portland, Oregon. In this regard we should understand that the liberals in Libya are going to co-exist with the Islamists, because at the end of the day, they understand their societal values, and they know if they want to get their summer to shine, they have to breathe in a bit of the Islamists’ Spring.