The GNC’s independents — not Mahmoud Jibril — will determine Libya’s path

Official results from Libya’s July 7 election have trickled in, and the result is being hailed as a victory for Mahmoud Jibril (محمود جبريل), pictured above.

His National Forces Alliance (تحالف القوى الوطنية) won 39 seats among the 80 seats that were available for political parties in the General National Congress, while the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party (حزب العدالة والب) won just 17 seats.  The GNC will run Libya’s government until an elected Constituent Assembly can draft a new constitution for Libya — among its 200 members will be 120 “independents,” many of whom are unaligned with either Jibril’s coalition or the Brotherhood.

International and Libyan media immediately started to crown Jibril and the “secularists” as the winners as it became clear the NFA was leading against the Brotherhood’s candidates, but it remains unclear that Jibril’s group — which has distanced itself from the “secular” label — will necessarily control the GNC.  Jibril himself was not eligible to stand for election, so he will not actually be a member of the GNC.

Among the 120 independent candidates elected, and among the 21 members who were elected from other smaller parties, many members of the GNC will be sympathetic to a more Islamist view.  Others are already looking to strike a more nationalist third-way tone:

“We are trying to create a third way,” said Saleh Gawouda, a prominent political activist and writer who won a seat in Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi.  “The parties are trying to rally independents but until now they only met with nine or something, not big deal.”

“This new coalition will be a nationalist one,” he said.

Jibril served as the interim prime minister for a little over seven months as head of the National Transitional Council, which gained international recognition as the Libyan government from mid-2011 onward.  Jibril stepped down, as promised, upon the capture of Sirte and the killing of longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.  His newly-formed National Forces Alliance is a union of liberals that have called for a civil democratic state and are proponents of moderate Islam.

But many Libyans are also wary of Jibril, who has very close ties to the United States and to Europe, and who served from 2007 until 2011 as the head of Libya’s National Economic Development Board, where he developed a close relationship with Saif al-Islam Gadaffi.  He was one of Libya’s leading proponents of privatization of state-run industries and liberalization of the Libyan marketplace to greater commercial ties with and development from the U.S. and Europe.

With militia leaders still active throughout Libya after a hard-fought civil war in 2011, Libya is not back to “normal” — and it’s not like there’s a “normal” to which Libya could return.

Libya remains a country where tribal ties remain stronger than civic or national ones.  Libya, as a country, is an artificial construction of three regions cobbled together during the colonial era — Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica.  Furthermore, Gadaffi developed few national institutions other than those directly patronized by his regime, which began in 1969 — so long ago that Gamal Abdel Nasser was still the president of Egypt.

So unlike in Egypt or Tunisia, Libya’s new GNC — and the Constituent Assembly that will draft its constitution — will be building national institutions for the first time.

Alongside those governmental institutions, they will also start to define a political sphere for Libya as well.  Again, unlike in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood was founded, or in Jordan, where it’s long been a strong presence, Libya has never really has seen an organized group devoted to political Islam because Gadaffi’s Libya did not tolerate any civil society institutions, Islamist or otherwise.

With Constituent Assembly elections scheduled for next month and with bona fide legislative elections to occur in 2013, Libyan political sentiment will likely remain fluid.  Jibril has had some apparent success in the first round of what’s going to be a long path in Libya’s nascent political development.

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