Written By: Rima Bugaighis
The Electoral Law that will govern the National Assembly elections, foreseen to be held in Libya this summer, has yet to be finalised – with ongoing civil society campaigns lobbying for revising its provisions relating to the participation of political parties, ensuring women’s participation, and the current campaign for the fair distribution of electoral districts. Furthermore, legislation governing the formation of political parties is still nonexistent, and the Electoral Committee set up by the NTC to organise and prepare for the June elections last January is stalling.
However, the Libyan political scene has witnessed interesting developments this past month, with the emergence of new political forces likely to mobilise significant parts of the population. Among them is the Coalition of National Forces (Tahalof al Qouwa al Watania) and the Muslim Brotherhood-based Justice and Construction Party – strikingly reminiscent of Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party – both of particular interest due to their size and grass-root support.
Coalition of National Forces
Launched last February 20th in Tripoli, the Coalition brings together more than 50 parties, 280 independent political personalities, representing a wide spectrum of the Libyan political scene. Liberals and moderate Islamic parties and independents alike have a voice in the Coalition, and all are bound by a “patriotic agenda”, says Mr Sadeg Zaroug, co-founder of the Weefaq Party, one of the four parties which formed the Coalition.
The Coalition also counts a number of civil society organisations and NGOs, who will not take part in the electoral process, but rather act as observers within the movement.
The Coalition’s High Commission will decide who will be running in the June elections on behalf of the Coalition bloc. However, it is still unclear how this is to be agreed upon, and there still seems to be some confusion as to which parties and independents are members of the Coalition.
The Coalition is foreseen to essentially act as a democratic platform uniting political forces sharing the same ideas and principles for the upcoming political phase, namely, the campaign for the National Assembly elections. The Coalition’s Charter thus essentially represents the bloc’s campaign fundamental principles for the drafting of the Constitution.
According to the Charter, Islam is the ‘religion of society’, and Islamic Shariah shall be a main source of legislation, yet not the only one. It also calls for a democratic, pluralistic, decentralised and civil State, where the executive, legislative and judiciary are separate powers, intent on guaranteeing its citizens’ fundamental rights (right to education, housing, employment) and freedoms (of thought, speech, assembly, political participation, expression). Furthermore, it recognises gender equality, and commits to the full realisation of women’s rights, whether it be in the economic, social, or political spheres. The Coalition also commits to promote individual entrepreneurship and encourage a major role for the private sector in the process of rebuilding the country’s economy.
Zaroug emphasizes that the current and upcoming phases are non-ideological. The debate on the extent to which Shariah law should inspire future legislation is unnecessary, he says, given that the country’s population is 99% Muslim and a significant part of the population is wary of the politicisation of religion.
Rather, he added, the current priorities are the creation of a national army and national security forces, reforming the health and education sectors, ensuring transparency in oil exports and revenues’ management, and ensuring a sound ‘checks and balances’ system as regards to Libyan assets and resources both abroad and within the country.
The Justice and Construction Party
Perhaps the most important political offshoot of the Libyan Muslim Brother, the Justice and Construction Party (JCP) was launched on March 3rd in Tripoli, revealing a change of heart of one of the most organized movements on the scene. Indeed, last November 2011, the Brotherhood held a highly publicised meeting in Benghazi, whereby it was voted that the ‘Jama’a’ (the term used to describe their organization) as an entity would not be transformed into a political party, but rather retain its status as a social movement. However, its members, as individuals, were not prohibited – and were perhaps even encouraged – to become actors on the political scene.
The launch event, attended by a reported 1400 supporters from across the country, declared the JCP as being a ‘civil party with an Islamic frame of reference’, as expressed by Lamine Belhaj, who headed the party’s founding committee. Although the party is open to all, Islamists and people of other political leanings alike, it is still believed to be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The event also served to elect the party’s leader, Mohammed Sowan, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and ex-political prisoner.
The Party’s Charter of Principles and Objectives outlines its political vision as a party and its objectives for the upcoming political phase. It defines the Party as being a ‘national project’ whose prime objective is to set Libya on the path to development and progress.
Its first principle refers to Shariah law being the ‘state religion’ and the essential source of legislation (as opposed to the Coalition’s ‘a main source of legislation’), as well as the foundation of the party’s political project and vision. The Charter also states that it rejects all forms of extremism. The JCP’s Principles assert the Party’s commitment to the protection of the country’s national unity, to the establishment of a civil State, and to ensure dignity and progress for all Libyans. Furthermore, it states that the women shall be granted the same political and civil rights as those granted to men. The Party’s closing Principle designates the family as being the cornerstone of the Nation, and for this reason, asserts its commitment to promoting and facilitating marriage.
The JCP’s Objectives include the establishment of a decentralised democratic state, based on ‘justice, freedom and dignity’ and separate executive, judiciary and legislative powers. It also envisions a free market and creation of a sustainable economy able to provide job opportunities and reduce poverty and unemployment.
After Ennahda’s electoral victory last October in Tunisia, and the Egyptian Parliament being dominated by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafists’ Nour Party, it seems likely that Libya will follow into the footsteps of its neighbours. The JCP’s emphasis on an ‘Islamic frame of reference’ might act as a strong pull to Libya’s particularly conservative society. Furthermore, it certainly stands out as the most organised political force on the Libyan scene, due to its longstanding existence as a socio-political movement.
However, the country’s general low level of politicisation and the latent aversion for political ideologies could play against the JCP, given its strong Muslim Brotherhood association. Furthermore, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood has neither taken the chance nor the public space to engage with society or partake in charity work, unlike Egypt’s Muslim Brothers especially, and to a lesser degree Tunisia’s Islamists.
Furthermore, many question the motives of Islamist parties when Libya’s population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, and where virtually all parties and political movements have adopted a reference to Islam in their projects and political platforms.
Although both the Coalition and the JCP voice their commitment to tackling the very real challenges Libya is currently facing in terms of reconstruction, development, reactivating the national economy and building a modern political system, there are fundamental differences in their programmes and political vision. The race to the June elections has only just begun.
Rima Bugaighis is an aspiring lawyer and social and political activist from Libya. She holds a Masters in International Relations from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva (HEI) and a Bachelor in Law from the College of Law, London. She is a frequent contributor to ShababLibya and editor of Benghazi Chronicles. You can follow Rima at @BenghaziChron.