|The opportunities and threats of Libya’s first free election||
The recent parliamentary election in Libya – the first free poll in the country in almost half a century – attracted the participation of several groups including Islamists, secularists, nationalists and independents.
Many observers describe the election as an important step forward, and the very fact that it was held successfully throughout the country, despite considerable challenges and a number of violent incidents, is a positive sign for democracy in Libya.
While only prospective results are currently available, it seems that a considerable portion of votes will go to the Alliance of National Forces, a liberal group which comprises 40 parties, hundreds of non-governmental organizations as well as independent political figures.
The Justice and Construction Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Libyan wing, has also claimed victory. Currently no one can predict which group will take the lead.
In my experience, Libyan society, though deeply religious, largely fears an electoral victory by an extremist group. This could boost the chances of secular and liberal parties that would undermine the Islamic demands of Libya’s citizens in the new political system.
After so many years of brutal dictatorship, the Libyan people should be free to breath in a fresh political atmosphere. However, Libya has lacked a civil society and potential leaders for several decades meaning there is a dearth of intellectual discourse about what the new national identity will look like. There is a risk that this vacuum could be filled by opportunist forces that wish to take advantage of societal divisions.
Mistrust is currently sadly pervasive in Libya and more time is needed for the political parties to settle their disputes. The Libyan people themselves also need more time to distinguish their friends from foes.
Mohammad Hadi Taskhiri is head of the department for Arab affairs at Iran’s Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.
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