Cheers have recently been heard in the liberal camp in Libya and around the world. After watching the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab Spring countries, liberals celebrated the upcoming victory of Mahmoud Jibril’s secular National Forces Alliance (NFA) in Libya. However, according to the Islamic Justice and Construction Party [the political arm of Libya's Muslim Brotherhood] the celebrations are premature.
The Islamic party admits that yes, Jibril will lead a liberal coalition of 40 parties that will win a majority of the 80 seats set aside for the party representatives. However, the other 120 seats will be divided among independent candidates and the Brotherhood claims that their party succeeded in vetting many independent candidates who are ideologically close to them. [A 200-seat interim national assembly is supposed to choose a prime minister and cabinet.]
Even Jibril called for a National Forces Alliance (NFA) that will give space to members of the Brotherhood "who are not radical." The NFA will also prepare a constitution with room for Sharia law. The winds raged on Tuesday between the 2 camps due to a terrorist attack in Derna; there were no casualties.
I was received in the party’s headquarters by Hamuda Siala, Jibril's spokesman and an engineer who joined the revolutionary leadership and has now decided — like many of his friends — to remain in politics, where he expects to receive a ministry in the new government.The headquarters are located in the posh Gilgamesh neighborhood, in a house that was once one of Muammar Gadhafi’s offices. Today, Jibril and his men are preparing [the foundations] of the new Libya in that very house.
A constitution with a democratic spirit
“The Sharia is only one of the sources of our new constitution,” Siala reassures me. “We are an Islamic state, but our constitution will emphasize respect for all religions. Here in Tripoli, for example, we have two churches.” When I ask about respect for all religions, he answers, “Meanwhile we do not have any other religions, so it’s not a realistic question, but the constitution will ensure respect and tolerance.”
The main components of the up-and-coming constitution are: democracy, freedom and human rights — components that even Libya’s senior citizens find hard to recall having had in their country. The new Libyan government will expect the West to assist them in founding state institutions that were destroyed, especially in the establishment of security forces. Siala hopes that a regular army and secure borders will enable them to overcome their most pressing problem today: the collection of the vast quantities of firearms in the hands of civilians, thus preventing the smuggling of these arms to our region via Egypt.
I asked about the international relations of the new Libya. Are we correct in hoping for a “equalizing power” to emerge there, opposite the Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco? “The Egyptian nation chose the Muslim Brotherhood, and we respect their choice,” said the spokesman of the National Forces Alliance. “Our first and foremost interests lie in honoring the countries that supported us in our revolution. We will sympathize with the struggle of the Syrian nation.”
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Siala says, “Although we have not yet formulated a clear stance on the subject, we will accept any solution that the Palestinians agree to.” Nonetheless, he says that the party’s platform does not include normalization of relations with Israel, even in the event of a political solution in the area. “We have not yet got that far,” said Jibril’s spokesman. “It is too early to talk about it.” The party has also not yet formulated a position vis-à-vis Iran, Gadhafi’s successor or the nuclear evil axis. “These are not the subjects that concern us at present,” admits Siala.
Neglect on the Jewish street
I went to the old, destroyed Jewish neighborhood to investigate religious tolerance in the place where Italian Christians, Jews and also Muslims lived together peacefully, according to my driver Kemal. Gadhafi housed African mercenaries in the houses evacuated by the Jews. Today, the neighborhood is populated by numerous Sudanese refugees who are despised by average Tripolitanians.
The Greek-Orthodox church and the lovely Catholic church are indeed well preserved, and a sign proclaims the existence of a national site. By contrast, the narrow, neglected street once called “Street of the Jews” appears very derelict. Kemal recalls that as a child, he stood on line for water next to children of the Jewish family who lived in a neighboring house.
The neighborhood children ran to us happily to show us the “house of the Jews.” An alleyway on the left leads us to the building of a destroyed synagogue. While the structure itself is still imposing, its doors are sealed with planks. From the gaping window, we discern a large gallery. Hebrew letters remain on the structure’s roof, the only ones visible in today’s Tripoli — sections of the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. This is the place where Libya’s new regime can begin to implement the religious tolerance section of its constitution.