Libya has surprised the world again. Confounding expectations, the people of the 'African Gulf state' launched a successful revolution in 2011. They managed to throw out their seemingly invincible leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. And, unlike their neighbours, have now chosen a secular rather than an Islamist direction in their first free elections.
Islamists have triumphed in Tunisia and Egypt, the first Arab Spring states, as well as in neighbouring Morocco, but the Libyans seem to have turned to secular liberals. Interim results of the 7 July elections indicate a clear victory for the National Forces Alliance. The group is led by Mahmoud Jibril, who has been considered the de facto prime minister of Libya since the revolution. The alliance represents 65 parties and 250 independent candidates of various ideological backgrounds and has so far taken 70 percent of the 80 seats set aside for party members.
The Islamic parties in the race are lagging far behind. They include the Justice and Construction party - linked to the Muslim Brotherhood - and the Party of the Nation led by Abdelhakim Belhaj. Having fought in Afghanistan, Belhaj has a history of Islamic extremism. Yet it seems to have made a major ideological shift, allowing an equal number of male and female candidates and calling for a civil state.
Liberal Libyan Summer?
With this result, Libya is the first state to tip the balance of the Arab Spring in favour of the liberals, contrary to the 'Islamic Autumn' which has followed in other countries. It must be remembered, however, that Jibril's National Forces Alliance is not purely liberal. It also contains independent candidates and well-known Islamic personalities.
According to Libyan writer Idriss bin Tayyeb, the main element that unites the different groupings is the desire to form a government of national unity representing a broad political spectrum. He adds that the Alliance even held negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood, who eventually decided to withdraw.
Distrust for political Islam
Libyans profoundly distrust the Islamists, and specifically the Muslim Brotherhood which is related to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. They remember how the Muslim Brotherhood let down the Libyans, by working hand in hand with the late regime. They made deals with Gaddafi to have their prisoners freed and cooperated enthusiastically with the Libya for Tomorrow project, initiated by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi - who is now imprisoned in Libya and wanted by the International Criminal Court. The Muslim Brotherhood withdrew from a national dialogue of opposition groups in 2005 and 2007 in order to preserve their relationship with Gaddafi.
Of course Mahmoud Jibril has cooperated with the Gaddafi regime in the past as well. It was Saif al-Islam Gaddafi who recalled him to Libya from the United States, where he was a university professor.
Still, his relations with the ruling family were "strictly professional", explains Libyan journalist Omar el-Keddi. "He never got himself ideologically involved with the system." Besides, he was among the first of Gaddafi's circle to side with the revolutionaries. Jibril has been seen as the face of the revolution both inside Libya and abroad.
Mahoud Jibril was not a parliamentary candidate himself and is thought to be aiming for the presidency. El-Keddi believes he could definitely achieve this ambition if he manages to keep his alliance intact. Jibril hopes to extend his support, but runs the risk in doing so of alienating some of his early allies. This happened recently when some candidates withdrew after others joined. But as most independent candidates are liberals or moderate Muslim personalities, Tayyeb expects that the majority of them will commit themselves to Jibril's alliance.
The Libyan Summer is still to reach its height, but the country has now tipped the balance of the Arab Spring.