Will they mold the new Libya into a true Islamic Republic? Or will they make it an Islamic Republic that is more moderate and tolerant, in the way that Tunisia seems to be headed? Or will Libya now have a strictly secular government?
These are some of the questions that Libyans will begin to sort out Sunday, when they go to the polls for the first time in more than forty years. Under the constitutional monarchy of King Idris that was overthrown by Muammar Gaddafi in 1969, voters did elect a parliament — albeit one in which candidates were elected without party labels, the king eventually outlawed political parties.
Now, eight months after the tyrant Gaddafi was found and killed by the freedom fighters who overthrew him, 2.8 million Libyans are registered to vote and will choose a congress with 200 members. To call the new congress Libya‚??s equivalent of America‚??s Founding Fathers is not a big reach: the congress will select a 60-member convention to write a new constitution for the oil-rich nation, which in turn will be approved or turned down by voters in a nationwide plebiscite.
It‚??s no surprise that the Obama administration — and much of the world‚??s governments and international press — will be anxiously watching the outcome closely, given the repository of oil in Libya and its proximity to the hotspots in Africa and the Middle East.
With more than 3,700 candidates representing 142 parties and movements vying for the seats and no accurate polling, the outcome is anyone‚??s guess. One party, al-Watan, is headed by Abdel Hakim-Belhaj, former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group that had close ties to al-Qaeda. Belhaj insists that his new party has severed those ties and renounced violence.
By far, the party that is most known to the outside world is the National Forces Alliance. It‚??s fame is due to its leader, Mahmoud Jibril, prime minister in the outgoing National Transitional Council that oversaw government after Gaddafi was deposed and the most visible face of post-Gaddafi Libya in the international press. Although the Council raised some alarms worldwide with its public calls for Islamic sharia law as the basis for legislation in the new Libya, former dentist Jibril has assured international audiences that this would be a mild form of Islamic law and not impose religious dictates on secular Libyans. As in other emerging democracies in Arab nations, there are a number of seats in the next Congress that are set aside for women and about 540 women are on the party lists of candidates.
Absent from the democratic exercise on Sunday is Crown Prince Mohammad, grand-nephew of King Idris and heir to the mantle and political movement of the last monarch of Libya (whose flag re-emerged during the uprising and is again the official flag of Libya). But the prince could well re-emerge from exile in London and organize a movement in Libya that will emerge from this round of voting, much as Bulgaria‚??s last king, Simeon II, returned from exile and organized a movement that brought him to power as prime minister in 2001.
The only thing one can assume at this point is, whatever the results emerging¬†from the historic voting in Libya Sunday, it has to be an improvement over¬†the tyranny that preceded it for so many years.