Sharia law surprise for secular-minded Libyans

Mon, Oct 24, 2011, 01:00

ANALYSIS:The role of Islam could prove to be a contentious issue in the new Libya

LIBYA’S INTERIM authorities formally declared liberation yesterday with soaring speeches that praised their revolution’s victory over tyranny, paid tribute to the fallen and offered clues as to what kind of state might emerge from the ashes of Muammar Gadafy’s idiosyncratic rule.

The long-awaited declaration, made in front of tens of thousands of jubilant Libyans gathered in Benghazi, the eastern city where the uprising against Gadafy began in February, came more than two months after Tripoli fell to revolutionary forces, allowing them to seized control of most of the country.

It ushers in a process agreed by the interim body known as the National Transitional Council which will see the NTC move its headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli and form a transitional government within 30 days. A 200-member national assembly is to be elected within 240 days, and this will appoint a prime minister a month later who will then nominate a cabinet. The national assembly will also be given deadlines to oversee the drafting of a new constitution – none existed under Gadafy – and the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections.

Already the process of forming a united and representative government promises to be fraught. With Gadafy dead, the fissures that always existed within the revolution, whether along regional or tribal lines or between Islamists and secular liberals, threaten to widen.

Even the fact that liberation was declared in Benghazi, rather than Tripoli, points to friction between leadership figures in the two cities – many of the NTC’s members, especially those from eastern Libya, have remained in Benghazi, the second-biggest city.

The question of who did what, whether during the war of the last eight months or during the four decades Gadafy was in power, will also determine much in the new order.

On Saturday, the de facto prime minister Mahmoud Jibril said progress would hinge on two things. “First what kind of resolve the NTC will show in the next few days, and the other thing depends mainly on the Libyan people – whether they differentiate between the past and the future,” he said. “I am counting on them to look ahead and remember the kind of agony they went through in the last 42 years.” Jibril also warned that Libya needed to swiftly find another source of income because the country had already consumed 62 per cent of its oil under Gadafy.

Those seeking hints as to what the new Libya may look like seized on particular sections of NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil’s speech in Benghazi yesterday, in which he went into some detail about the place of Islam in the post-Gadafy scenario.

“This revolution was blessed by God to achieve victory,” Jalil, who is considered devout but moderate, told the crowd. “And we must go on the right path.”

Libya, he said, would be a state where Sharia law would be the “fundamental source” of legislation and any existing legislation that contradicted Islamic principles would be immediately annulled.

It was not the first time Jalil had made such statements, and many other Arab countries have similar constitutional provisions, but Libyans of a more liberal bent may have baulked at what came next.

The new state “will not disallow polygamy” Jalil said, and charging interest will be forbidden. Some Libyans point out that polygamy was practised discreetly under Gadafy, while others interpreted Jalil’s remarks as a practical measure to address the issue of the thousands of women left widowed during the war.

These declarations, though met with cheers from the crowd, will have raised eyebrows among more secular-minded Libyans who would prefer to have such matters decided through a democratic process rather than presented almost as a fait accompli at such an early stage.

The Islamist tint to Jalil’s speech could be interpreted in different ways: it may have been an attempt to undercut the influence of more hardline elements while Libya finds its feet after Gadafy, or a bid to keep the grassroots on board as one of North Africa’s most conservative societies enters what will be a challenging period.

Either way, it shows that questions over what role Islam should play promise to be among the most pressing in the new Libya.

LIBYAN LIBERATION: DECLARATION CEREMONY

BENGHAZI – Libya has declared its liberation after 42 years of Muammar Gadafy came to an end with his death last week, setting the north African state on course for democracy.

“Raise your head high, you are a free Libyan,” vice-chairman of the interim National Transitional Council Abdul Hafiz Ghoga told tens of thousands of cheering and flag-waving Libyans in the eastern city of Benghazi.

“Libya, Libya, Libya!” they chanted back at a ceremony in the city where the uprising against Gadafy began in February and where the interim council has been based.

One speaker mocked the erstwhile Gadafy, saying he would be consigned to the “garbage bin of history”, after the former leader was caught hiding in a drain on Thursday and killed the same day in chaotic circumstances.

Women ululated as officials spoke.

Several speakers referred to years of Gadafy’s “tyranny”.

The interim council’s head, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, began his address by falling to his knees in a ritual to thank God. He said the liberation should be celebrated by “praising God and kneeling”.

“I call on everyone for forgiveness, tolerance and reconciliation. We must get rid of hatred and envy from our souls. This is a necessary matter for the success of the revolution and the success of the future Libya,” he said.

Mr Jalil declared that Islamic sharia law would be the basis for legislation, echoing previous statements by the interim council on the role of Islam.

“We as a Muslim nation have taken Islamic sharia as the source of legislation, therefore any law that contradicts the principles of Islam is legally nullified,” he said, adding this included setting up Islamic banking in the north African state.

Mr Jalil thanked Gulf states, Arab League, the United Nations, and the European Union for supporting the uprising. Some in the crowd waved the flag of Qatar, an early backer of the rebels and US and European flags in tribute to nations which provided aircraft that bombed Gadafy’s troops.

“All the martyrs, the civilians and the army had waited for this moment, but now they are in the best of places . . . eternal heaven,” Mr Jalil said. “The revolution began as a peaceful one, but it was faced with violence.” – (Reuters)