Although the picture might take days to clear, the emerging trends from post-poll Libya suggest that the Islamists are heading for a defeat at the hands of a moderate alliance headed by the former interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril. After the heady wins in Morocco and Tunisia, the Islamists’ much-laboured climb in Egypt and the reverses in Libya might appear as a sign of the Islamic wave petering out. But other than being read as the surest sign of the gathering strength of democracy in the Maghreb, the events do not render themselves to any sweeping generalization. The Islamists’ fortunes in each country have been determined by factors germane to each of them, and these have also guided the behaviour of the political players. If it is over-reach that seems to have eaten into the initial advantage the Islamists had in Egypt, it is the near lack of ambition that has spoiled their chances in Libya. In any case, having experienced a sufficient dose of Muammar Gaddafi’s eccentric Islamism, Libya has never shown much enthusiasm for the Islamist parties. Their attempt to strike a bargain with the outgoing Gaddafi regime has made them unpopular. Public response to them is also guided by the fact that their opponents have never tried to project themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘secular’ alternatives. Mr Jibril, in fact, projects himself as a devout Muslim and scoffs at such labels foisted on him by the international media. Without the pull of religion or talent driving them towards the Islamists, the people of Libya seem to have rooted for Mr Jibril’s coalition that — given its representation from 40 parties, non-governmental organizations and independents — is broad enough to contain multiple, and conflicting, interests and assure the economic stability that Libyans are looking for.
That does not mean the end of the road for either the Islamists or Islamism in Libya. The Justice and Construction Party, the Libyan arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, is trying to rope in independents to tilt the balance in its favour. Even if it fails, the winning coalition is likely to continue with many of the socially conservative policies of the former regime that banned alcohol and legalized polygamy. In fact, the introduction of Islamic laws may prove less challenging for the new government than the threat of secessionism and the never-ending ethnic and tribal violence that could derail its progressive policies.