By Inga Kristina Trauthig
By tracing and explaining the history of the LMB ’s organisational developments, this report examined one way in which the LMB tried to establish itself as a legitimate political actor with regard to Islam in the Libyan political sphere after 2011. (The full report can be accessed here).
2012 Elections: Charged with Hope Both for a Better Future in Libya and for the Institutionalisation of Power by the LMB
The first elections in the country since 1965 were held in July 2012 to great enthusiasm and a large turnout. Libyans elected a General National Council (GNC): a 200-person body that would name an executive head of state and pave the way for parliamentary elections in 2013.
The elections were preceded by structural debates, such as the composition of the electoral law, but also less legislative but more practical issues, such as how the election would be conducted and who could participate.
The LMB was realistic enough to anticipate that it could not collect a landslide victory or come close to the results its counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia had achieved.
Two main issues were justifiably running high in the LMB’s election campaign:
– first, effectively overturning the widespread negative impression of the LMB due to Qaddafi’s relentless condemnation of the movement, since the LMB had never been able to counterbalance this impression with the provision of services socially, as the Egyptian MB had over decades; and
– second, the need to create a party platform and programme that would differentiate itself from competing entities and hence simultaneously attract voters to a party rather than individual candidates chosen because of local prominence.
The first issue proved to be difficult, as already discussed, while the second turned out to be even more tricky in Libya with its deeply engrained localism.
For an Islamist party the centrality of Sharia naturally becomes the centrepiece of its party programme; in Libya, however, this did not set the LMB apart, not even from the liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA), which also promoted a vision of Libyan democracy with an “Islamic frame of reference”, just as the JCP communicated at its launch and Al‑Kibti emphasised.
Looking at the JCP’s election programme, which was published in both Arabic and English, there are expected phrases, such as the goal to work towards a state that “guarantees the rule of democracy and peaceful transfer of power”.
There are barely any aspects that would raise eyebrows in the West, apart from that the state should be based on a constitution drafted in accordance with the “beliefs of the Libyan people and community values […] which consider Islamic law the main source of legislation”.
The LMB’s Facebook page says that “the values of freedom, justice and human rights [are] the backbone of religion, as long as [these principles] do not contravene the steadfast [precepts] of our faith”. However, even if this assertion might have caused discomfort among some Western readers, it was hardly controversial in the Libyan context, in which even the NFA committed to similar principles.
Again, the rift between conservatism and liberalism in Egypt or Tunisia could be detected in the widespread debate about the role of Sharia and provided a chance for the MB to position itself prominently; however, this discussion “barely caused a ripple” in conservative Libya.
One advantage the LMB held and which it could theoretically expand upon was its history and tradition, an aspect all the other hastily formed parties were lacking.
Building on this, the LMB could offer a truly national agenda to the Libyan people founded on its ideology and transcending local, regional perspectives. However, these appeals did not prove fruitful, again mainly due to the emphasis on local personalities that disadvantaged the ideologically focused Islamist party.
Election Results: Depicting Libya’s Historic Influences that Left a Mark on Politics until Today
With a voter turnout of just under 60 per cent, the 2012 elections can be described as a true expression of the Libyan people’s political preferences at the time. The election results catapulted the NFA to the top of the list with regard to party results and the LMB did not live up to its own confident predictions that “the Islamist current would take at least 60 per cent of the seats”, instead coming second in the party list results.
While it had still performed significantly better than other Islamist parties, it clearly did not come close to the number of seats it had hoped for. Keeping in mind that its true representation in the GNC was bigger than that captured in the party list seats due to some brothers running (and winning) as individual candidates, these election results still forced the LMB to confront the fact that ultimately it lacked widespread popular support in Libya.
From an international perspective, many observers had applied a framework of religious political groups competing against secular parties they had become accustomed to from Libya’s neighbours to the Libyan context, assuming that the better-organised Islamists groups, including the LMB, would have a tactical advantage. Observers were subsequently baffled by the NFA’s landslide.
Moving Forward: the LMB Seeks to Entrench Itself in Libya
In August 2012, the LMB also registered as a nongovernmental organisation in Libya to cement itself in Libyan society, playing catchup to what its Egyptian counterpart had been doing for decades already.
In post‑revolution Libya it could now theoretically engage with communities openly and on a scale that was never possible in the past, implementing its approach to improve society as a whole by working with individuals and communities.
The disappointing elections results meant that the JCP was not necessarily a body the LMB as a whole wanted to be automatically linked with; establishing a separate NGO was supposed to differentiate the LMB from the JCP. Yet the LMB had already catapulted itself onto the political stage, essentially out of nowhere, because of its involvement with the NTC, and could not rely on extensive social networks during its first emancipated steps in Libya.
Trying to implement its model of societal transformation the “wrong way around” proved quite difficult, as many Libyans were still suspicious of the LMB and already viewed it as a predominantly political actor.
In conclusion, the political wing of the LMB had managed to entrench itself in the newly established Libyan political structures while still lacking a sophisticated social base.
Despite managing to win a respectable number of seats in the GNC, the LMB was, bluntly, nowhere near where it imagined itself and had hoped for during the election campaign.
The next section examines the LMB’s failed efforts to convince the Libyan people that it be trusted with the political development of the country since it is the only true bearer of Islam.
to continue next part with (The Muslim Brotherhood’s Quest for Legitimacy in the Libyan Political Sphere as the “True Bearer of Islam”)
Inga Kristina Trauthig is a Research Fellow at ICSR and a PhD candidate at the War Studies Department at King’s College London. Her research focusses on the changing Islamist landscape in post-Qaddafi Libya and aims to explore the political influence of dominant Islamist and Salafi groups in the country.Inga is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Member of the Standing Expert Committee Terrorism and Interior Security of the Konrad-Adenauer- Foundation, part of the extended board of Women and International Security in Germany and Fellow of the Atlantic Initiative.