Ten months after the overthrow of the old Gaddafi regime the Libyan people participated in their first bona fide national election in almost half a century on the 7th of July writes Patrick Scott. Electing representatives from over 3,000 candidates to the 200 member strong General National Congress (GNC), a body charged with the task of appointing a new government and drafting a new constitution. Out of the 200 members 80 were representatives of political parties elected under a system of proportional representation whilst the remaining 120 were independent candidates elected from single member constituencies. In the election itself about 1.6 million voters out of a registered electorate of about 3 million took part.
In many respects the election to the GNC had some similarities to the recent Egyptian Presidential election which saw a final runoff between Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafiq, the last Prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak. Unlike Egypt though the Islamists did not turn out to be the victors though they were serious contenders in the election. In the proportional list it was the anti Islamists of the National Front Alliance (NFA) headed by Mahmoud Jibril that was the largest party, taking 39 out of 80 seats. At the time of writing the appointment of a new Prime Minister by the GNC is yet to be decided. Mahmoud Jibril though is very probably the favoured candidate of the western imperialist powers. A former functionary in the Gaddafi regime as head of the country’s National Planning Council and later its National Economic Development Board, Jibril had played a role in promoting policies of privatisation and economic liberalisation. According to a secret US diplomatic cable in 2009, since released by Wikileaks, Jibril was described in favourable terms as “a serious interlocutor who “gets” the U.S. perspective”. But like many other regime functionaries he quickly switched sides in the civil war and led the government of the Benghazi based National Transitional Council from March to October 2011. Although ostensibly committed to some limited social reforms overall the NFA is broadly committed to neoliberal policies and to attracting foreign investment to Libya.
Taking second place in the proportional list was the Justice and Construction Party taking 17 seats, an Islamist party that is de facto the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. However most of remaining elected candidates in the proportional list came from minor parties that generally considered themselves anti Islamist. In the 1990s there was an Islamist opposition to the Gaddafi regime led by former Libyan jihadist fighters in Afghanistan who had returned to the country to form the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) with alleged links to Al Qaida. The LIFG who regarded Gaddafi as an apostate from Islam lead an armed struggle against the regime in the mid-1990s. Launching a failed uprising in Benghazi in September 1995 which was only suppressed by the regime after several weeks fighting. It also made two unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Gaddafi during this period but was nevertheless ultimately defeated by the regime. Arguably though the ultimate weakness of the Islamist forces in Libya in the 1990s was that they acted as the Libyan wing of a global jihadist movement. This was in contrast for example to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt which was more rooted in Egyptian society and was able to develop a mass social base over many years as a tolerated opposition force to the government.
If the Islamists in Libya though are weak the workers movement and the left (even a social democratic left) generally are very much weaker. Other than the state controlled National Trade Unions Federation all forms of trade union organisation were non-existent under Gaddafi. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt which did have some form of trade union organisation under the old regimes, especially Egypt where independent unions came into being in the final years of the Mubarak dictatorship and became part of the revolutionary movement against the regime. Though the struggle to overthrow Gaddafi did see some beginnings of working class self-organisation, in the early days of the uprising against Gaddafi oil workers took strike action. And latterly after the fall of the regime the oil workers struck again to demand the removal of the Gaddafi era management. So although the development of working class movement is still very much in its infancy there remains the space for development which did not exist under Gaddafi.
Other than the division between secularists and Islamists the major political fault line in Libya today is between are those who support a centralised state and those who support a federal state or even ultimately the breakup of the Libyan state. All these differences though are within a thoroughly bourgeois perspective. All the major political forces in post Gaddafi Libya support a neoliberal perspective in varying degrees. The hopes of the Libyan masses having been raised by the overthrow of Gaddafi may well find themselves quickly dashed by a neoliberal government working hand in glove with the western imperialist powers. The danger in this respect is that Islamist forces could fill the political vacuum to emerge as a major oppositional force and a serious contender for governmental power. But this is by no means a foregone conclusion if the Libyan working class is able to politically develop and intervene as an organised force.