Elections launch new era in Libya
Interview by Mawassi Lahcen for Magharebia in Casablanca – 06/07/12
Libyans are excited about their first free elections in nearly 50 years. The vote on Saturday (July 7th) will decide which of nearly 4,000 candidates will join the General National Congress, draft a new constitution and lay the foundations of the new Libyan state.
After decades of oppression under the unilateral party system imposed by Moamer Kadhafi, 2.9 million Libyan voters are eager to express their social and political opinions, aspirations and demands for the first time.
But in the run-up to the elections, mobs raided government offices in Benghazi and Tobruk, advocates of a federalised Libya called for a boycott of the poll, and random violence has targeted diplomatic and humanitarian missions.
[Mawassi Lahcen] Libyan poster reads: "Some lost their body parts to allow you to vote… Vote, for the price was high."
[AFP/Karim Sahib] A Libyan woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Dubai on July 4th, 2012. Libyan expatriates are allowed early voting in the July 7th constituent assembly elections.
[facebook.com] The Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood launched the Justice and Development Party on March 3rd, 2012.
[Mawassi Lahcen] Salafist culture is "alien to genuine Libyans", Libyan Amazigh activist Fathi Salem Abu Zakhar says.
Magharebia spoke about these developments with Fathi Salem Abu Zakhar, a member of the founding committee of the Amazigh National Congress in Libya.
Magharebia: As the national election looms, Libya is seeing random violence. Who is responsible? And will these incidents disrupt the poll?
Fethi Salem Abu Zakhar: There is no conclusive evidence as to who is really behind these events. We don't know whether they are extremists, as some say, or remnants of the Kadhafi regime controlled by external powers, as others claim. It is certain, however, that there are those who seek to derail Libya's course towards democracy; otherwise, why would this happen as the election draws near? Where were the perpetrators before? The aim of these operations is definitely to undermine and derail the electoral process.
Magharebia: There is a new dynamism in Libyan politics. Has the future political map of the country already started to take shape?
Abu Zakhar: There is no clear vision for the vast majority of the more than 140 political entities that have recently been created. However, they do have one common denominator: they all aspire for democracy. There is a general consensus among these political entities about the need to establish the foundations of democracy and a rotation of power. All existing political entities agree on this issue.
But most of these political entities are still at simple levels of organisation, political mission and vision.
Let me point out that we actually don't have any political parties in Libya, as there isn't even a constitutional or legislative framework for establishing political parties. All that we have are projects to create parties, but since these projects are not yet complete, we call them political entities rather than parties.
Most of these political entities were created by individuals unlinked by ideology or clear political vision. The only thing that brings them together is a desire to take part in, and contribute to, what's happening.
In the face of this vast majority, there is a very small group of political entities with a history of ideological training. These entities have an Islamic character or trend.
Magharebia: What is the extent of their influence in Libyan society?
Abu Zakhar: The most organised political entities in Libya are the Muslim Brotherhood and the salafists. The Justice and Development Party, which was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, tops the list. It must be noted that the salafists and Muslim Brotherhood operate in Libya under several façades and are forming a number of political entities. However, they don't openly call themselves Islamic parties.
Magharebia: Are these movements gaining traction?
Abu Zakhar: They take advantage of religious sentiments among Libyans.
Libyans, by nature, sympathise with religion, but not in the theocratic concept, i.e. through the adoption of a religious marji'ya (jurisprudence). These parties take advantage of simple sentiments in people to link them to the marji'ya of the Muslim Brotherhood or the salafists.
We should also point out a very important thing: this marji'ya is alien to the Libyan society; it is imported from abroad. In addition, these parties were created overseas, not in Libya. They have their own agenda, contacts and missions that extend beyond the Libyan borders.
Therefore, they are not national parties in the true sense of the word because they have marji'ya based outside Libya, and weren't born in Libya.
Magharebia: How do the salafists view the elections?
Abu Zakhar: The salafists are divided. On the one hand, there are some who are not convinced of the elections in the first place, and don't believe in them. On the other hand, there are some who try to exploit the election and take advantage of it.
Salafism is alien to Libyan society. It is imported from the east. What is happening in Egypt and Tunisia concerning the salafists is the same as what is happening here. They are, after all, moved by just one hand.
Magharebia: What is the extent of their influence on Libyan youths?
Abu Zakhar: Frankly, the salafists have somewhat managed to influence the Libyan street. Their influence is clearly manifested in the wearing of the burqa, veil and face cover, which are alien to us as Libyans. This culture is alien to genuine Libyans; it's an imported culture coming from the Gulf and is not a Libyan culture.
It now has influence in some areas, but it is still more in appearance rather than content. For example, you may find a young man who grows a beard in order to have that religious look, but this doesn't reflect profound convictions in that young man as much as it reflects an attempt to imitate a certain appearance.
Magharebia: In the context of these changes, where is the Libyan Amazigh movement? Does it have political extensions in these entities?
Abu Zakhar: The Amazigh movement has, of course, tried not to appear in a purely Amazigh character. We tried not to have an obvious political party.
There is the Libyan List for Freedom and Development, which expressly calls for integrating the Amazigh language in the constitution. It's a party that has a presence here in Tripoli. It also has a strong presence in southern areas among the desert Amazighs.
There were attempts by all the big parties, whether the Muslim Brotherhood or others, to approach the Amazigh movement. We've already received promises from them about defending our basic demands in their programmes, especially about guaranteeing the rights of Amazigh language in the constitution.
We, of course, understand that most of these promises are just attempts to win votes.
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