Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Libya elections: Muslim Brotherhood set to lead government

By Jamie Dettmer

Libya's top politicians have hatched a deal that would see the Muslim Brotherhood lead the government after the country's first free elections in almost five decades takes place on Sunday.

Supporters of the Justice and Construction Party, the political arm of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, celebrate the end of the election campaign in Tripoli  Photo: Reuters

While the elections for a 200-member National Congress is unlikely to grant a majority to any one faction, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies are confident they can join their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt at the helm of leadership.

Negotiations between the Muslim Brotherhood and a secular-based political movement led by former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril have focused on forming a post-election government as soon as the result is known.

An adviser to Mr Jibril said the former prime minister was likely to take the post of figurehead president with Mustafa Abu Shagour, currently interim deputy prime minister of the Muslim Brotherhood, taking the prime minister’s slot as head of government.

The Muslim Brotherhood would dominate the ministries.

In the run-up to the elections, Libya’s interim government has struggled to maintain law and order.

A threatened electoral boycott by federalists in Benghazi, the second city, has rattled Libya’s rebels turned leaders. Leading figures fear that large numbers in the city that triggered the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi may shun the polls, undermining the legitimacy of the election.

Recent attacks on foreign diplomats in Benghazi by Jihadists, a series of ugly micro-conflicts between militias in the Nafousa mountains leaving 105 dead and 300 wounded in the last fortnight and fierce clashes between Arabs, Tebu tribesmen and Tuaregs in the south have put the country on edge.

“We need to ensure stronger and more capable leadership soon after the elections,” said a senior official in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party. “That is what Libyans want – more security and stability and progress being made to improve their day-to-day lives. They don’t want deadlock.”

Any coalition government would grant a prominent place to the al-Watan party of Abdulhakim Belhaj, sources said. Mr Belhaj acknowledged that the talks were under way. He said: “I negotiate with anyone who cares about Libya and wants to unite it.”

The presence of Mr Belhaj in a Libyan government would complicate relations between Tripoli and London.

Mr Belhaj, the former commandant of the now dissolved terrorist outfit, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had ties with al-Qaeda before disavowing violence, is suing the British government for approving his 2004 rendition to Gaddafi’s regime.

Libya is using a complicated electoral system designed to ensure that no party sweeps the board in the elections for the assembly, which will oversee the new government and draw up a constitution.

One hundred and twenty seats are reserved for individuals – 2,501 candidates are challenging for those – and 80 seats will be allotted according to party lists. There are 1,206 party candidates.

But Islamic parties are likely to predominate, experts believe.

“I’d be surprised if Islamists, from the Brotherhood and other parties, don’t secure most of the seats and a great chunk of the vote,” says Dartmouth University professor Dirk Vandewalle, who’s been advising the UN mission here.

The outgoing National Transitional Council, which has ruled Libya since Gaddafi’s fall, announced yesterday that Islamic Sharia law should be the “main” source of legislation and that this principle should not be subject to a referendum.

“The Libyan people are attached to Islam, as a religion and legislation … As such the National Transitional Council recommends that the (next) congress make Sharia the main source of legislation,” Saleh Daroub, NTC spokesman, said.

Some secular Libyans fear the Brotherhood rising influence, despite promises from the Justice and Construction Party that it won’t seek to impose religious views through control of the bureaucracy.

“If the Brotherhood gets in we will see a repeat of what’s happening in Tunisia with underhand pressure on women to cover up and raids on art galleries,” warns Majid Wanis-Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s last prime minister before Gaddafi seized power in 1968.

The main storage centre for election materials in the eastern Libyan town of Ajdabiya was set on fire late Thursday night. The ballot papers for the town were burnt. The election commission is trying to print replacements in time for the polls.

Hundreds of protesters stormed the election commission’s office in Benghazi last Sunday, ransacking files and smashing computer equipment. If they had managed to destroy ballot papers or voter lists, they could have derailed the election.

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