July 4, 2012 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 853

Libya On Eve Of General National Congress Elections – A Political Review

July 4, 2012 | By B. Chernitsky*
Libya | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 853



The elections for Libya's General National Congress (GNC), which is to serve as an interim legislative body,[1] are set to take place July 7, 2012,[2] under the supervision of the Supreme National Commission for Elections.[3] Of the 200 seats in this body, 120 are reserved for independents, while the rest are reserved for party lists. However, it seems that at least some of the parties are fielding candidates as independents in addition to candidate lists.[4]

Within 30 days of its election, the GNC is to appoint a prime minister, as well as a committee to draw up a new constitution for Libya. The constitution is to be drafted within a period of 120 days and submitted to a referendum within 30 days of its drafting. If the Libyan people endorse the draft by a two-thirds majority, the GNC will ratify it as Libya's constitution. If rejected, the constitution drafting committee must amend the draft and resubmit it for referendum within a period of 30 days from the first referendum. According to the website of the Supreme National Commission for Elections (, candidates for the GNC must be Libyan citizens, and they may not be former or present members of the National Transitional Council (NTC), which is currently running the country, or heads of municipal councils.[5]

Banner on the website of the Supreme National Commission for Elections: "Your Vote – Your Country's Future"

The Challenges Of Centralized Government In Libya

When it is elected, the GNC, along with the Libyan government, will have to deal with a number of factors that undermine centralized rule in the country. Chief among them are violent forces that disrupt security, as well as the demands, mainly in eastern Libya, to establish a federation, which would weaken the central government.

A. The Threat Of Security Anarchy

The main factors that could make it difficult to build a stable, successful state are: militias that control extensive areas of Libya, including parts of Tripoli itself;[6] violent inter-tribal power struggles, in which hundreds have been killed or wounded,[7] and threats by loyalists of former leader Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi to start a new revolution and reinstate the old regime.[8]

Another source of concern in Libya and the West is the alleged presence of organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the country. For example, an Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization named "The Brigades of the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman" has reportedly perpetrated terrorist attacks against foreign targets in Libya in retaliation for the killing of Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Abu Yahya Al-Libi, who, according to the Americans, was killed in an airstrike this June.[9]

The fact that Libyan society is based on tribal loyalties, and lacks a longstanding tradition of party politics – partly because Qadhafi banned political parties – acerbates these difficulties.[10]

B. The Demands To Establish A Federation

Libya's history has seen periods when the country was divided into autonomous regions, versus periods of central rule. During the Ottoman era, Libya was divided into two regions: the Barca region in the east and the Tripoli region in the west. This division was eliminated during the Italian occupation. When the country gained independence in 1951, King Idris Al-Sanousi reestablished the federative rule, this time with three regions: In the east the Barca region, with Benghazi as its capital, which became the seat of government during this period; in the west the Tripoli region, and in the south the Fazan region. In 1963 this division was again replaced by a centralized rule. After the 1969 revolution, Qadhafi enacted a centralized regime based in Tripoli, while the status of the eastern region diminished.[11] With the establishment of the new regime in Libya, calls were made in the eastern province of the country to reestablish a federative rule.[12]

Currently, many residents of the Benghazi region – which holds 80% of the country's oil reserves[13] – fear that the regime will marginalize them politically, economically and socially, as Qadhafi did, and demand an increase in the number of seats allocated to the eastern region in the GNC. Recently, supporters of a federation called for boycotting the elections on for this reason.[14] On July 1, several days prior to the GNC elections, federalists broke into the offices of the Supreme National Commission for Elections in Benghazi and damaged property to protest against the lack of response to their demands.[15]

On March 6, 2012, some 3,000 local leaders convened in Benghazi and declared Barca an autonomous region. They appointed former NTC member Ahmad Al-Zubair Al-Sanousi (cousin of King Idris Al-Sanousi, who was imprisoned by the Qadhafi regime in 1969 after trying to oust him, and was released in 2001) as the head of a council to manage the region's affairs. The participants declared that they recognize the NTC as a symbol of the country's unity and its representative in the international arena.[16] However, despite this, their actions triggered harsh reactions in Libya and fears in the NTC. The council's head, Mustafa 'Abd Al-Jalil, called them an "external plot" and even threatened to use force if necessary to protect Libya's unity.[17]

Protesters in Benghazi: "No To Tribal [Sectarianism], No To Federation, Yes To National Unity"[18]

Over 370 Parties Running In The Elections

The Supreme National Commission for Elections has announced that over 2,700,000 citizens have registered to vote, and over 2,600 independent candidates and 370 parties have registered to run.[19] Of the hundreds of parties, this report will focus on those that are fielding numerous candidates in the elections, and which have been extensively covered in the Libyan and international media, possibly indicating that they have sizable influence in the country.

The Parties – Main Characteristics

1. There seems to be a consensus in Libya that the shari'a should be defined as the primary source for legislation, in stark contrast to the secular rule imposed by Qadhafi. This is evident from the fact that even secular parties have noted in their platforms the special status of Islam.

2. Generally speaking, parties representing the rebels tend to stress the principle of equality among all Libyan tribes and regions. This is noteworthy, because the Libyan society is a highly tribal one, comprising both Arab and non-Arab tribes (Berbers and others). The latter were marginalized by the Qadhafi regime; residents of various regions also claim they were marginalized by the old regime and are now demanding to correct this situation.

3. The parties formed by some of the figures discussed in this report (such as Islamist leader Dr. 'Ali Al-Salabi and rebel leader 'Abdallah Naker of Zintan) do not appear on the list of parties published by the Supreme National Commission for Elections, though they have been widely covered in the media. Possibly, these parties are not fielding any candidates, or else are fielding all their candidates as independents or as part of various coalitions with different names.

Islamic Parties

1. The MB-Founded Justice And Construction Party (Hizb Al-'Adala Wa'l-Bina)

Affiliated with the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (MB), this party was founded at an MB conference held March 2-3, 2012 in Tripoli, which was attended by 1,350 activists from the MB and other Islamic movements. The party head is Muhammad Hassan Sawwan, who was jailed by the Qadhafi regime for his political activity. The party has an anthem[20] and several institutions, including: a 45-member shura council headed by attorney Mustafa Al-Mani',[21] whose name was changed recently from "shura council" to "supreme council," presumably in order to distinguish it from the shura council of the MB movement; a "general committee"; a legal body, and several bureaus, including a bureau of political affairs, of youth affairs, and of public relations.[22] According to the Libyan daily Al-Watan, many NTC members were present at the party's founding conference.[23]

The MB presents the party as independent of the movement itself. For example, the movement's general guide, Bashir Al-Kabti, said before the founding of the party that it would be "independent of the [MB] movement in its policy, and the movement [would] not impose its patronage on the party or its members."[24] In June 2012, Sawwan told the German news agency DPA that only 500 of the party's 10,000 registered members are MB members.[25]

The party has declared that its principles are anchored first of all in role of Islam in political life, alongside democratic principles, with emphasis on the status of women and young people and on economic development: "Islam is the state religion and the shari'a is the main source of legislation"; "the state will be civil and democratic", based on "multiple parties," "separation of powers, rule of law... [and] peaceful transfer or power"; "civil rights will be granted and international treaties respected"; "young people of both genders form the central pillar of Libya's [society]"; "women are equal to men in rights and duties"; the party will pursue "economic growth, [based on] the building of a free economy and the promotion of the private sector", but will also champion "the equal distribution of wealth based on social justice"; it will act to eradicate corruption and found decentralized state institutions, and will place special emphasis on education, healthcare and national reconciliation.

The party stresses its intention to found the new Libya upon the principles of democracy and justice, in contrast to Qadhafi's Libya: "[The party's] main goal is to [promote] the public interest... put an end to the problems that plagued our people for decades under [the rule of] tyranny and destruction, and form a regime capable of leading the state, taking decisions in a calm [i.e., non-violent] manner, and removing obstacles to [economic] growth... The Justice and Construction party... aspires to shape Libya into a united, strong and progressive state... which is proud of its historical roots, [but] maintains relations with others and is part of human civilization."[26]

It should be noted that the MB's opponents in Libya claim that this movement is trying to take over the country by means of its ties with several parties – not just Justice and Construction but also the Al-Ummah and Al-Watan parties (on which see below).[27] In an interview with the DPA news agency, Sawwan acknowledged that MB members had joined these parties, seeing nothing wrong in this. As mentioned, he also stated that his movement is fielding independent candidates in the elections – which lends weight to the warnings by MB opponents.[28] The MB's possible ties with cleric Dr. 'Ali Al-Salabi, who is an associate of Sheikh Youssef Al-Qaradhawi (see below), lends further weight to these claims.

Emblem of the Justice and Construction party, with the party motto: "For the Spreading of Justice and Promotion of Construction"[29]

2. Other Islamic Forces

A prominent Islamic leader with many connections in Libyan politics is cleric Dr. 'Ali Al-Salabi, who appears frequently in the Libyan media and on the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel. He spent eight years in prison in the Qadhafi era, and subsequently lived in Qatar, where he enjoyed the friendship and support of Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), of which Al-Salabi himself is a member.[30] He returned to Libya at the beginning of the revolution, and in November 2011 announced his intention to found a party called the National Front for Liberty, Justice and Development. An examination of the official list of parties reveals no such party.[31]

Al-Salabi has close ties with 'Abd Al-Hakim Belhadj, the former leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihad organization Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). In fact, Al-Salabi was one of the central figures involved in bringing about the release of Belhadj and of dozens of other jihadis from prison in 2009, as part of a deal with Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi.[32] According to the U.K. daily The Guardian, Al-Salabi supports Belhadj's party, Al-Watan.[33] Al-Salabi himself is supported by major forces in the NTC, including its head, Mustafa 'Abd Al-Jalil, who recently appointed him to conduct contacts with former senior officials in the Qadhafi regime who are currently staying in Egypt.[34]

It should be noted that Al-Salabi is frequently presented as an MB member, though the MB renounced him following the reports on his contacts with members of the former regime. If he is indeed an MB member, he may represent another attempt by the MB to expand its influence using other forces.[35]

Secular Parties

1. The Coalition Of National Forces (Tahaluf Al-Quwa Al-Wataniyya)

This coalition comprises 40 political groups and over 200 civil society organizations, as well as independents. Its supreme council, a sort of legislative forum for the coalition that includes a representative of each group and organization, is headed by Jibril Mahmoud, the former chair of the NTC Executive Committee.[36] The coalition's opponents[37] accuse it of supporting federative rule and of peddling a moderate, "centrist" type of Islam (al-Islam al-wasat) in order to attract Islamist voters and thereby weaken the Islamist movements running in the elections.[38]

The most prominent group within this coalition is the National Centrist Party (Itilaf Al-Tayyar Al-Watani Al-Wasati), headed by economist Dr. 'Ali Al-Tarhouni, a former opponent of the Qadhafi regime who spent 31 years in the U.S. and served as Libya's economy and oil minister for several months after the revolution. The party states that it aspires to be a moderate political force that protects Libya's resources and independence; to build a modern economy that guarantees a dignified life to all citizens, based on justice and transparency; and to establish media and transportation systems to connect all parts of the country.

At the party's founding conference, it was declared that Islam was Libya's state religion and that the party would promote the following goals: establishing a modern, civil constitutional state with separation of powers and an independent judiciary; honoring human rights while protecting Libya's national sovereignty; building a powerful army and developing the military institutions and the border guard; promoting decentralized government and the delegation of executive and administrative powers to local authorities.[39]

2. The National Front (Al-Jabha Al-Wataniyya)

In March 2012, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) announced its transformation into a political party. Established in 1981, the NFSL opposed the Qadhafi regime from abroad and tried to topple the tyrant several times. The most prominent of these failed attempts was in 1984, when NFSL fighters infiltrated Qadhafi's compound in Tripoli. Several years later the organization tried to conspire with officers in the Libyan army, and even established the Libyan National Army in Chad.[40] The National Front party is headed by Mahmoud Yousef Magariaf.[41]

The party's secretary-general, Ibrahim Sahad, said that the movement no longer needs weapons now that Qadhafi is gone. He stressed that the party advocates democracy, the separation of powers, the peaceful transfer of power, and cooperation with all other forces in society.[42] The party's principles, as posted on its website (, include a commitment to run the party on democratic lines, to promote national reconciliation, and to uphold dialogue as the means to resolve conflicts. The party calls to launch a national enterprise for the promotion of women in the domains of politics, economy and society, and stresses the need to develop the economy and the education system, including by offering free higher education, enhancing political awareness and awareness of human rights, and banning the glorification of parties and political figures in the curricula.[43]

Ibrahim Sahad said that the party is particularly strong in the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata and Derna.[44]

Emblem of the National Front

Party chairman Ibrahim Sahad

Parties Headed By Rebel Leaders

1. The Al-Watan Party, Founded By 'Abd A-Hakim Belhadj

Formerly the commander of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihad organization Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), 'Abd Al-Hakim Belhadj spent six years in a Qadhafi prison and was released in 2009 after declaring his renouncement of jihad.[47]

During the revolution, Belhadj played a central role in the rebels' takeover of Tripoli. After the revolution he headed the Tripoli Military Council (one of the military councils formed by the NTC to police the streets instead of Qadhafi's security apparatuses), but resigned from this position ahead of the upcoming GNC elections. He said that the military council had not been disbanded, but that it was no longer needed because its members had joined the interior and defense ministry apparatuses.[48] Some assess that Belhadj is angling to be the next Libyan president.[49]

'Abd Al-Hakim Belhadj[50]

The Facebook page of Belhadj's Al-Watan party declares that the party "believes in an Islamic source of authority." One of the party founders, Libyan journalist Isma'il Al-Qritli, who worked on Al-Jazeera's website (, explained that this means Islam will be the primary source of legislation.[51] The page states further that the party believes in the full participation of all its members; freedom of speech; the promotion of women and the youth, and in ensuring a dignified life to all Libyans. It believes development should be the task of local authorities, that civil rights should be granted to the residents of all Libyan regions, and that Libya's unity must be preserved.[52] The party states further that weapons must be in the hands of the Libyan army for the purpose of defending national security.[53]

It should be noted that Belhadj's critics claim he is an agent of Qatar.[54]

2. The Al-Qima Party, Headed By 'Abdallah Naker

'Abdallah Naker came to Tripoli with a group of rebels from Zintan, which still controls part of the international airport in the capital. He is head of the Tripoli Revolutionary Council militia, which, according to him, comprises some 100,000 fighters.[55] He has refused to disband this militia, despite requests by the new regime, on the grounds that he and his fighters have not been offered sufficient incentive to do so.[56] Naker's militia has apparently gained considerable influence in Tripoli by seeing to the residents' needs.[57] According to some reports, Naker sees himself as a rival of Belhadj.[58] His opponents call him a thug and a new Qadhafi.[59]

The founding conference of the Naker's Al-Qima party was attended by academics, politicians and rebels. It characterizes itself as a "national democratic political party, which endorses the human values accepted throughout the world." Its declared objectives and principles are to establish a pluralistic civil state anchored in the rule of law, the separation of the powers and the peaceful transfer of power. The party stresses that it aims to include members from all sectors of Libyan society, regardless of place of residence and tribal or racial affiliation, and to involve the citizens in public and political activity, so as to strengthen the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and national unity.[60]

The party sees Islam as the state religion and the principle source of legislation, while promising freedom of worship to non-Muslim Libyans. It aims to reshape the school system so as to strengthen the status of clerics and promote Islamic studies. It commits to encouraging cultural, economic and social activities that conform to the directives of the shari'a.

The party places emphasis on building an advanced national economy while utilizing all the country's resources and encouraging small and medium businesses as engines of development, and on promoting young people by involving them in decision making and by providing employment. It advocates rebuilding the health system; formulating a strategy for fighting unemployment, crime and illiteracy; promoting social justice, and granting rights to all sectors in society – especially the youth and special needs populations. It also commits to restoring "Libya's stolen wealth" and to prosecuting members of the former regime who were involved in corruption and murder. It promises to work towards collecting weapons and handing them over to the army, to care for the wounded and the families of the martyrs, and to handle the issue of displaced persons. It expresses a commitment to Arab and Islamic causes, especially the Palestinian cause.[61]

It should be noted that although the party has received much media attention both inside and outside Libya, it does not appear to be fielding any candidates in the upcoming election (at least, no such candidates appear on the list published by the electoral commission).[62]


* B. Chernitsky is a research fellow at MEMRI.



[2] The elections were originally scheduled for June 19, 2012. According to the Supreme National Commission for Elections, they were postponed for logistical reasons. However, according to assessments, the security instability in the country was a factor in the decision.

[3], June 10, 2012; Al-Bayan (UAE), June 11, 2012.

[4] For example, the head of the Justice and Construction party, Muhammad Sawwan, reported that his party is fielding 170 candidates, 76 of them on its party list and the rest as independents., June 15, 2012.

[5], accessed June 20, 2012.

[6] International human rights organizations report that the militias are one of the main challenges for the Libyan government. According to one organization, the militias hold some 4,000 of the 7,000 prisoners in the country, the most prominent of whom is Saif Al-Islam Al-Qadhafi, who is being held by rebels in Zintan. Al-Hayat (London), June 24, 2012.

[7], June 3, 2012. For example, some 50 people were killed recently in the city of Kufra in clashes between the Tabu and Al-Zawiya tribes. When similar clashes occurred in the city a month ago, Tabu tribesmen also attacked government forces that were dispatched to the city to suppress the violence. According to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the Libyan government has accused the Tabu of enlisting members of their tribe living in Chad to exacerbate the confrontation in the city. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 2, 2012.

[8] Two groups that have explicitly declared their loyalty to the old regime are the Desert Tribes Alliance (, accessed May 25, 2012) and the Free Officers Organization, which has promised to "liberate Libya" from the NTC's rule (Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, June 22, 2012). Furthermore, Libyan regime officials told the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat of the formation of a "popular front" that includes remnants of the previous regime in neighboring countries (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, May 17, 2012).

[9] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 3, 2012.

[10] Libyan journalist 'Abdallah Al-Qabaili wrote in the website of the newspaper Libya Al-Yawm of the need for intelligent sheikhs who will cooperate with the nascent Libyan state and assist it in implementing law and democracy, where once there was only tribal mentality., June 10, 2012.

[11]Al-Hayat (London), March 7, 2012.

[12]Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 17, 2012.

[13], March 6, 2012.

[14]Al-Hayat (London), June 29, 2012.

[15] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 2, 2012.

[16], March 6, 2012.

[17]Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 17, 2012.

[18] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 3, 2012.

[19], June 5, 2012.

[21] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 828, "Libyan Muslim Brotherhood On the Rise," April 24, 2012,

Libyan Muslim Brotherhood On the Rise.

[22], May 25, 2012;, April 26, 2012.

[23] Al-Watan (Libya), accessed March 20, 2012.

[24], November 23, 2011.

[25], June 15, 2012.

[26], March 27, 2012.

[28], June 15, 2012.

[29] Image source:

[30], accessed February 28, 2012.

[31], November 10, 2011. Different reports have placed Al-Salabi at the head of different parties. For example, a March 14, 2012 report on claimed he was head of the National Democratic party.

[32] For remarks by Belhadj on Al-Salabi's role in engineering his release, see

[33], 5 June 2012.

[34] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 30, 2012.

[35], June 3, 2012.

[36], March 15, 2012.

[37] Specifically, the Al-Taggamu' party and NTC member 'Abd Al-Razzaq 'Abd Al-Salam Al-'Aradi.

[38], February 27, 2012.

[39] Al-Watan (Libya), February 28, 2012; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 29, 2012.

[40], accessed June 6, 2012.


[42], June 13, 2012;, accessed June 20, 2012.

[43], accessed June 12, 2012.

[44], June 13, 2012.

[45] Image source:

[46] Image source:

[47] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 730, "The Salafi-Jihadi Challenge in Libya Part II: The Role of the LIFG and Its Former Commander 'Abd Al-Hakim Belhadj," August 26, 2011. The LIFG has since transformed into the Libyan Movement for Reform, and has established a party of its own, named Al-Ummha Al-Wasat. According to the daily Al-Hayat, one of the party members is the brother of Abu Yahya Al-Libi, Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, who was reportedly killed this June by the Americans. Al-Qurina A-Jadida (Libya), May 29, 2012. It should be noted that other veteran LIFG fighters belonging to various Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are boycotting the GNC elections. Al-Hayat (London), June 3, 2012.

[48], May 16, 2012.

[49] Al-Hayat (London), June 3, 2012.

[50] Image source:

[51], May 10, 2012.

[52] In an article on the Libya Al-Yawm website, Isma'il Al-Qritli said that, in light of the marginalization suffered by many regions in Libya, there is need for a party that is not affiliated with any region and is not calling for the division of the homeland into regions, but rather believes that rights are granted based on citizenship., May 10, 2012.

[54] For example, see Facebook page titled "The Most Beautiful Things Said on February 17."

[55] (Libya), January 9, 2012.

[56] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 28, 2012. In a February 24, 2012 interview with the Libyan daily Al-Watan, Naker said that, if they wanted to, the rebels could take control of Libya by the force of arms.

[57] According to Naker, the militia defends the security of the state and the citizens, for instance by founding security bureaus and addressing citizens' complaints. Libya Al-Jadida (Libya), January 9, 2012.

[58] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 28, 1012; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 26, 2011.

[59] See Facebook pages titled "How Many People Hate 'Abdallah Naker" ( and "Naker – A New Copy of Qadhafi" (

[60] Naker told the Libyan daily Al-Watan that he advocates granting citizenship to non-Arab Muslim tribes in Libya, such as the Tuareg Berbers and the nomadic Tabu tribes. Al-Watan (Libya), February 24, 2012.

[61] Al-Watan (Libya), February 28, 2012.

[62], accessed June 20, 2012.

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