Western celebrations over the victory of liberal forces in Libya might be premature, but the country is still on a positive route to democracy and deserves our support, says DW's Rainer Sollich.
It seems surprising that Islamist forces should have done so badly in Libya's first free elections. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, where young, secular Facebook activists set the tone in the early stages of the rebellion, the insurgency against Moammar Gadhafi's dictatorship always seemed to be under the shadow of Islamism. Libya had no traditions associated with a liberal civil society, and no one knew the major opposition players or their motives. TV pictures showed heavily armed rebels using religious slogans as battle cries.
But Libyans sent out a different signal from the voting booth. The relatively liberal National Forces Alliance, led by the former head of the transitional government Mahmoud Jibril, became the strongest political force in the country with 39 seats. The Muslim Brotherhood, so strong in Egypt, had to make do with a distant second - winning 17 seats.
Liberal sea change?
But it would be premature to speak of a new liberal trend in Libya, because easily the biggest "faction" in the new 200-seat National Assembly is made up of the 120 independent representatives, who generally see themselves as protectors of regional or tribal interests. It remains a complete mystery what polices they will support on a national level.
Rainer Sollich is the head of DW's Arabic department
The Muslim Brotherhood's poor showing can be put down to the lack of the traditional networks and organizational structures it enjoys in other countries. But now that it is fishing for the support of those independent representatives, its influence could easily increase. And it will remain a powerful faction in countries like Egypt and Syria in any case.
Between democracy and Sharia
And we should not make the mistake of confusing the Libyan election winner's program with that of liberal parties in western countries. Jibril is a gifted tactician with enough skill and populism to reach the country's conservatives. He wants a democratic Libya, and he wants to set up a modern civil society, but he also said early on that he wants Sharia Law to be one of the cornerstones of Libya's future constitution. Like most of the other countries in the region, it would be unthinkable not to put the constitution on a religious foundation.
What was more sensational than the result was the relatively trouble-free election itself. Despite their lack of democratic experience, and the countless violent conflicts in recent months, Libyans have shown that they can take their future into their own hands. They have not travelled far along the path to a "new Libya," but they're going in the right direction. Just as it was the right thing to do to lend the opposition movement military support at a decisive moment, now is the time for the West to lend Libya its political support.
Author: Rainer Sollich / bk
Editor: Rob Mudge