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Libyan thinker Mohamed Fayez Jibril: Arab and Islamic identity won't change

The new Libya doesn't see the West as an enemy, though it differs on certain political issues, says prominent political thinker in an exclusive interview with Ahram Online

Ahmed Eleiba, Saturday 29 Oct 2011
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Ceremony honoring the field commanders of the Eastern Front in Benghazi, Saturday (Photo: Reuters)

Mohamed Fayez Jibril, a Cairo-based founder of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, Libya's oldest opposition group, believes that the outline of the political map of the new Libya after the revolution is now clear, after a firm schedule was placed for the political process in the country.

The first phase began this week when it was announced that all of Libya had been liberated and the power of the executive office terminated. Power was handed over to the National Transitional Council (NTC) that must now form an interim government in the next 30 days that will be responsible for several milestones, most importantly elections for the National Congress.

The National Congress, in turn, will choose a committee to write a constitution for Libya that will be put to a public referendum. As soon as the Congress is elected, the NTC will be dissolved, because the former will be an elected body that will pave the way for democratic government and a constitution that will outline the shape of the state, its institutions and mechanisms. All these steps should be completed within the next 18 months.

Jibril argued that at the core of the political map will be the elite. “The definition of political forces in terms of ideology is unknown to the people of Libya,” he explained. “The problems that will occur on the periphery of the new state in terms of political parties and forces will take time and depend on how far they mature during the post-revolution phase. Therefore, the elite are most likely the only ones who at this point can express these ideologies. The majority of them are Islamists since the Libyan people are religious Muslims by nature but are not familiar with the notion of political Islam.”

On another plane, after the winds of war have subsided in Libya, NATO states are now talking about their rewards in return for the role they played. French President Nicolas Sarkozy made clear statements after liberation to this end, which begs the question about the future of Libyan-Arab relations in general that go beyond the oil factor. “The coast of our country is long and extensive on the Mediterranean,” stated Jibril, “and we have immense oil resources and buyers in Europe and the US. We do not believe the West is dishonourable or consider Westerners our enemies as some might think. This is the impression that the Gaddafi regime left with many.”

“NATO countries are certainly going to have an influential role in Libya in the coming phase,” Jibril asserted. “Libyan revolutionaries built connections with NATO because of its role over the past nine months. It is very likely that the Libyan military will be armed by Europe and the US, which is not unusual since all the countries in the region rely on Western armament.”

Discussing relations with Arab states, Jibril said that “we must remember that Libya is the link between Arab countries in the East and West, although Gaddafi largely blocked this vital link between brother states. What is also certain is that the Arab and Islamic identity will not change. These are fundamentals irrespective of nationalistic slogans by the Nasserist camp. Then we entered a cycle of misadventures.”

Jibril believes that the Islamist trend in Libya shaped Abdel-Hakeem Bilhaj, who is known to have been a former member of Al-Qaeda, is unlike any other. The situation is different because the Islamic movement in Libya is developing differently from any other, and all the regional changes will be a backdrop for a trend of political Islam in Libya’s future.

Jibril continued: “Fears in the West that this trend will grow are incorrect and are portrayed in an exaggerated way; even the West has revised this outlook. We are not obligated to agree with the West on everything; we reject its position regarding the Palestinian cause, but agree with it on other issues – even in the past when we agreed on the issue of Bosnia. We should break loose from the backward thinking of the previous regime regarding Islamists and using them as a frightening spectre to blackmail the West. The Islamists, without realising it, maintained Marxist thinking by also viewing the West through extremist lenses, and the regimes manipulated this and benefited from it. In the case of Libya today, I believe the position of Bilhaj’s group would be difficult to apply to this model because there will be surprises in the coming phase."

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