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Associated Press/Photo by Abdel Magid Al Fergany

Leaning left

Libya | In Libya's first election in decades, secularists edge Islamists

While Egyptians contemplate life under a Muslim Brotherhood presidency and parliament, Libyan voters may take a different route: Preliminary results from the country's first election in decades suggest that secular-based parties may prevail over Islamist politicians.

Libya's election on Saturday marked the first contests since the downfall and death of infamous dictator Muammar Qaddafi last fall. Indeed, Qaddafi never allowed political parties or free elections during his 42-year rule.

A free contest without major complications was a relief-and a triumph-for Libyans who spent the last year enduring a bloody revolution that led to the Qaddafi's demise.

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Just days after Americans celebrated Independence Day, Libyans celebrated their first free election in similar fashion: Families flocked to beaches, organized cookouts, flew flags, and swapped stories of their first voting experiences.

Those votes focused on choosing 200 members for a National General Congress that will replace the current transitional government. The new body will oversee the drafting of a constitution-a process expected to take months.

But the successful election still comes with serious challenges: Islamist parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, may gain enough seats to maintain significant influence over the constitutional process that will shape Libya's future. And any new government will face the old tribal structures that have divided the country for generations.

For religious minorities, the future also remains unclear: Converting to Christianity remains culturally taboo in the country that's 97 percent Muslim. Some groups estimate that the population of indigenous Christians in Libya may number less than 100.

Still, any movement away from Islamist rule could benefit minority groups facing stiff persecution. But it remains uncertain whether Libyan politicians can move the country away from the vision that Mustafa Abdel-Jalil-head of the country's transitional government-cast for Libya last year: "We are an Islamic country. We take the Islamic religion as the core of our new government. The constitution will be based on our Islamic religion."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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