During the days of the Libyan revolution’s conflict with the Gaddafi regime, one witty commenter observed a commander in the battlefield with a long beard, turban and traditional Arab clothing, with a group of similarly-dressed fighters behind him and cries of “Allahu Akbar” reverberating around, and said: “It was like watching a television series about Qaqaa ibn ‘Amr al-Tamimi preparing to fight the battle of Qadissiya!”
Those who closely observed the Libyan facts on the ground would have concluded logically that a battle spearheaded by the Islamists to overthrow Gaddafi was a stark indicator that the Islamists would be successful in the subsequent Libyan parliamentary elections. The Libyan Revolutionary Brigades, with their Islamic spirit, contributed to a brilliant victory over Gaddafi’s forces, and the revolutionaries cheered, chanted God’s name and fired their weapons in memory of the fallen martyrs. Most of the Libyan people are religious and tribal, and when Gaddafi first came to power, the opposition movement was originally fuelled by the religious forces. Hence, any close observer would have thought that the Libyan Islamists, in their various guises, would have swept the recent parliamentary elections with a landslide victory.
Let us consider the parliamentary election results in other countries where revolutions broke out, such as Egypt and Tunisia. In these countries, societies are more open and the liberal currents are the oldest and most deeply rooted in the region, with considerable control over the traditional media. After the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the heads of the old regimes fell but the state systems were fiercely maintained, with their respective joints and sovereign ministries. Despite all this, the Islamists achieved remarkable victories in the parliamentary elections, and so it seemed inevitable that the Libyan Islamists would score major victories in a country where both the leader and the regime have fallen, with the latter noticeably falling first.
However, when the winds of the Libyan election blew, there was no momentum for the Libyan Islamists’ ship, and suddenly the (liberal) National Forces Alliance (NFA), led by Mahmoud Jibril, imposed itself on the electoral scene. The Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Justice and Construction Party subsequently floundered, turning the balance upside down and leaving the door wide open to ponder what had happened, analyzing and interpreting the results of the Libyan political scene. Prior to the elections, some of the Islamists accused Jibril of being a remnant of Gaddafi’s regime, so will their subsequent loss prompt them to challenge the credibility and integrity of the process?
One of the factors behind the NFA’s triumph lies in the charismatic personality of its leader Mahmoud Jibril, whose term as interim Prime Minister of the Transitional National Council immediately after the revolution served as an early personal campaign drive. His political efficiency led to him becoming the trusted political face of the Libyan revolution, since the Western world mistrusted its flagrant Islamic roots. Along with President Abdul Jalil, he was able to form an influential connection with the outside world, especially the Western countries whose military intervention contributed to the revolution’s outcome and the overthrow of Gaddafi.
Another reason accounting for the success of Jibril and his alliance was the fact that he began his campaign immediately after his resignation from government, at a time when the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the Islamist factions were busy developing their party infrastructure.
Fragmentation is another contributing factor to the Islamists’ poor results in Libya, and this is a phenomenon that barely any Islamic faction in the Muslim and Arab world has been spared from. The Islamists in Libya put forward a number of competing parties and individual candidates; completely the opposite approach to Mahmoud Jibril who sought to galvanize different entities into one harmonious alliance.
The Islamists in Libya, under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, now have no option but to accept the election results and even congratulate the winner, so as to demolish the pyramid of myths that have been constructed about them by their opponents, alleging that they would dismantle democracy if they came to power, or completely reject the democratic process if they were defeated. This is the only way the Islamists can triumph in defeat.