»For now tribe trumps religion«
Dominik Peters, Bodo Straub, Christoph Sydow and Björn Zimprich
Arab commentators mostly regard the process and the outcome of the first Libyan election in the post-Gaddafi-era with favour. Nonetheless, some also voice warnings over superficial satisfaction.
What, if 42 years of Gaddafi's regime falsified our picture of Libya? is the question Christian Merville of the Lebanese daily L'Orient le Jour poses. »The proof: It was not the Islamists who won this saturday, but an coalition whose leader is contesting the Islamists' authority and teachings.« According to him, Mahmud Jibril demonstrated that the Islamic Religion was too important to be used for political purposes. » It was about daring something, and Mahmud Jibril did. Successfully, as the first results show.«
The decisive factor for the voters' decision, however, was the »ethnic element«. »This is the reason why the leader of the Alliance of the National Forces who belongs to the mighty, one million members strong Warfalla tribe, won the majority of the 80 seats.« Should Jibril indeed be the winner of this peaceful confrontation then the country could »enter the path of unification, which has never before appeared this tangible«
Rami G. Khouri, columnist at the Lebanese Daily Star, calls for prudence: The first election results of the post-Gaddafi-era should be seen in a greater historical context – »as opposed to our overreacting to immediate developments or exaggerating the meaning of any single development or emerging trend.« He is referring to the weak performance of the Islamic parties, which has been addressed frequently by the international press. Primary task of the Libyans was not only to establish a legitimate political system but also to reinforce the concept of one single Libyan state which is accepted by all its citizens – which they never had the chance to do up until today. »My guess is that because Libya is still addressing the most basic elements of state formation, for now tribe trumps religion in the aggregation of political power in the public sphere.
In his comment for al-Safir, Sati Nur al-Din relates the Libyan election to the situation in Syria. He specifically analyses the Russian position towards the developments in both countries. The elections in Libya dismantled Russia's argumentation. »Wladimir Putin can no longer say: Look, what NATO did in Libya! Even the Kreml has to acknowledge that the elections have mostly been fair and free – and even more importantly – quiet and peaceful.« According to the author, this was the »most important and the biggest surprise« since the beginning of the Arab revolts. The NATO intervention had been »painful and suspicious«, but also provided the Libyan people with a unique oportunity to rebuild their country. Russia should now learn from this experience and refrain from further blocking a foreign intervention in Syria – »in order not to repeat the Libyan mistake«.
Yasser Abu Hilala also compares the situation in Libya to that of another Arab state – Egypt – in his comment for the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad. He says that despite the dissolution of the army and the security forces after the breakdown of the Gaddafi-Regime the security situtation during elections was better than in Egypt – a country controlled by the army. Hilala compares Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the former commander of the Libyan rebels, with Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Egyptian Supreme Military Council. »Belhadj tasted the bitterness of imprisonment under Gaddafi, under the American and the British, he is well aware of the meaning of freedom and human rights. He conquered Tripoli to be part of the people, not to reign them.« Quite contrary to the Egyptian military: »Tantawi did not move when Israel violated Egypt's sovereignty during the war on Gaza. The mission of the army is to protect the system from internal enemies, which is to say, from the Egyptian people.« In Egypt, he says, the military is blocking a democratic state, whereas the Libyan rebels allowed for free elections.
The lead article of the Qatari journal al-Raya praises the Libyan-Qatari friendship, titling »Qatar is standing by Libya's side!« »The state of Qatar reiterates its oath to stand firmly by Libya's side, like it always has. The excellent relationship which tied Qatar to the Libyan sister nation has been demonstrated by the financial and political support during the blessed revolution that ended in the defeat of oppression and dictatorship and finally led to freedom.« According to al-Raya, the Libyan people showed »great responsibility« during the elections so there is hope for »constructive cooperation between the two countries and the sister nations« in the future.
According to the columnist, one of the greatest challenges Libya is facing is to improve the security situation which requires first and foremost the integration of the armed rebels into the regular army. Moreover, the process of national unification needs to be pushed. »The Libyan people successfully passed the ordeal of the first general elections after the revolution. It showed maturity, responsibility and great eagerness to build a modern Libya which shall be reigned by the ballot-box, the will of the people and pluralism – and which holds the prospect of growth and development and the construction of a modern state for each of its citizens.« Unfortunatly, the comment conceals that most of Qatar's inhabitants are still waiting for most of the so-called civil rights.
Jusuf Al-Kawalit is writing on »Libya and the approaching transition to democracy« in the Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh. Regardless of the political agenda of the parties, whether liberal or Islamic, they evoked a »picture of national unity«, says Al-Kawalit. The parties might not end their thematic differences. But still, it was possible to overcome the barriers of tribalism and separatism, which led to a new awareness. Nevertheless, he writes, the new government is facing a tremendous challenge, especially regarding numerous necessary institutional reforms.
»Something positive happened in Libya on Saturday«, writes Boaz Bismuth in the Israeli newspaper Israel Hajom. »Libyan citizens voted freely for the first time since the ouster of Muammar al-Gaddafi. For a country with no institutional infrastructure the elections went on rather peacefully.« At the same time, the former Israeli ambassador to Mauritania warns against putting too much hope in the transformation process, as Libya, out of all the countries of the »Arab spring or winter« is in the worst condition, a condition caused by both ethnic and tribal tensions as well as Salafists and al-Qaida members. »There is but one thing the Islamists in Libya cannot do: implement the Sharia in the country. But that is just because the transitional government, led by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has already implemented Sharia Law«, he says with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood and closes his comment with the words: »Did anyone mention democracy?«
Avi Issacharoff holds a similar perspective in his Op-Ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, stating his bewilderment at the applause of Western media for the victory of »the Liberals« – whereupon »liberal« would be broadly squared with the non-Islamist camp and thus, with Mahmud Jibril. Moreover, he warns against the radical Jihadist Abdel Hakim Belhadj and advises his fellow journalists: »to wait and see, because it is going to take a while until we will be able to understand which route Libya is taking.«