Analysis: Libya’s Islamists stare defeat in the face … and it looks like Jibril
THE scale of the collapse of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood in elections this week, confounding pundits who had predicted successes to match those in Egypt and Tunisia, is a tale of two villas.
Shortage of Tripoli office space – one of the many things the warped dictatorship of Col Muammar al-Gaddafi failed to deliver – compelled both the Brotherhood and its more secular rival, the National Forces Alliance, to set up shop in villas five miles apart.
Similar in size, nestling in leafy suburbs, the mood in the two villas could not have been more different as results rolled in from the first Libyan election since 1964 yesterday.
Outside the headquarters of the Brotherhood’s party, Justice and Construction, piles of upturned wooden signs, some bearing the party logo, a prancing brown horse, lay discarded on the front steps.
Inside it was the Mary Celeste – empty desks strewn with fliers and boxes of party literature. No phones were ringing. The polite, articulate campaign manager, Alamin Belhaj, wearing a grey suit, suddenly had too much time on his hands.
“We are very far from reaching people,” he said. “That is our weakness.”
A week ago, few would have predicted the catastrophe that has unfolded for the Brotherhood.
The triumph of the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in capturing the Egyptian presidency last month seemed a harbinger of what was to come across the border in Libya. The prancing horse poster was ubiquitous across Libyan cities, and no party had a grassroots organisation to match.
Yet in the eight districts to have returned results so far – roughly half the total – the Brotherhood has won just once, with six others going to the Democratic Alliance.
Mr Belhaj, who commutes between Libya and Manchester, said the result was partly explained by “trickery” by alliance leader Mahmoud Jibril.
Mr Jibril was banned from standing for the new 200-seat National Congress because he was a member of the current government, yet his picture adorned Alliance posters.
Yet that raises another question: Mr Jibril has triumphed despite his past, so what does he offer that the Brotherhood lacks?
“In the Brotherhood we don’t believe politics is separate from religion, we believe politics is part of religion,” said Mr Belhaj. “The problem is the voters don’t know the Brotherhood. They do not understand Islam [although] they are Muslims 100 per cent.”
The mood could not be more different at Mr Jibril’s headquarters in the Highlandes district, appropriately, given his economics background, around the corner from the Tripoli stock exchange.
If phones were ringing, it was hard to hear them through the tumult of MPs, assistants and TV crews. A press conference was held in the basement and Mr Jibril, a thick-set man with the look of a professor was hustled into the room behind a phalanx of bodyguards.
Mr Jibril, bearer of a doctorate from a US university, could not be more different from the religion-driven Brotherhood; he is an arch-pragmatist, as happy espousing liberal politics as he was once happy to give economic advice to Gaddafi.
As the first prime minister of the National Transitional Council in the heady days of revolution, he earned plaudits for corralling support from Europe and America. Later, he was turfed out of office, accused of relying too much on an inner circle of officials from his family and his tribe, the Warfalla.
Yet he has come bouncing back in style, managing an apparently contradictory appeal to liberals, women, Gaddafi-era businessmen and tribal elders.
At his press conference he did a fine line in modesty, delivering a speech first in Arabic, then English. “This is a sincere call for all political parties to come together,” he said of his “grand coalition.”
Arguably, his party – the Alliance is an amalgam of 58 parties and several hundred other groups – is wide enough already, and may not suffer the strain of becoming a still broader coalition.
If, as seems inevitable, the Alliance becomes the new government, it has a massive task on its hands, with the new to rebuild schools, hospitals, the economy and the rule of law.
The ace in Mr Jibril’s deck is oil. Libya has the largest reserves in Africa, and £100 billion in the bank. And only six million people. If he can balance the contradictions in his alliance, he may yet deliver the wealth to keep all Libyans happy.
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