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What explains the Islamist setback in the recent elections?
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In a recent interview, Jibril stressed that he would be willing to form a coalition government with the Muslim Brotherhood, pointing to the need for “national unity.” While Brotherhood members in Libya have now accused Jibril of engaging in unfair electoral tactics, there is little they can do but try to form a coalition agreement with Jibril’s bloc.
The emerging picture is therefore as follows: As in Iraq, Islamic religious norms will certainly remain a part of daily life in Libya and Islamists — in areas where they wield influence — may organize their own local militias to enforce aspects of Shari’a, but it is unlikely that there will be implementation of a full-blown Islamist agenda on a national level by the government, which will probably be open to engagement by the West.
More generally, an important lesson to draw here is to avoid sensationalism in analyzing developments in Libya, which is yet another parallel with the situation in Iraq and media coverage of events there.
The problem of clashes between competing local militias and tribes is unlikely to be fully reined in for quite some time, while torture and lack of respect for the rule of law will probably remain commonplace.
However, larger-scale reprisals against perceived supporters of Gaddafi’s regime (e.g. the Tuareg, who have consequently fled south into Mali) were already carried out and completed quite some time ago.
Further, one should avoid making too much out of the autonomist movement in eastern Libya, which has welcomed Jibril’s success in the elections and is hoping for a “constructive dialogue” with him on the issue of autonomy, condemning the anti-electoral violence committed by some protesters in the run-up to the elections. The question of autonomy will either be resolved or remain in limbo, and it is unlikely to lead to secession from Libya on the part of Cyrenaica.
What many reports have termed a “localism” trend in the country since the downfall of Gaddafi’s regime should be taken into consideration, yet as in Iraq, the need to preserve an infrastructure for the vital oil industry will prevent a fragmentation of the nation into mini-states along the lines of Dark Age Greece (i.e. the period between the Bronze Age collapse and the appearance of the Homeric epics).
To sum up: Libya is doing much better than I expected. The academic and pundit Hussein Ibish, who on reading my piece “Libya Heading Towards Islamism” suggested that I might be overestimating the strength of the Islamists, got it right. I got it wrong.
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