I’m delighted that the Libyan elections resulted in a win for a comparatively more liberal slate of candidates, but it would have been a more significant thing if the Tunisians or Egyptians did that. Unfortunately, this win will be spun as an ideological victory for big bad interventionist Westerners. Make no mistake, propagandists are already at work to ensure that Mahmoud Jibril is being painted as the demon spawn of the imperialists, who could not do anything but win in Libya because the coalition that opposed Gaddafi militarily would accept no one but a dutiful puppet.
That propaganda speech could well have been given about Tunisia or Egypt as well, but the fact that Western countries did not intervene in those countries gives the speech somewhat less of a chance for success. Part of the significance of the “Islamic democracy” parties that have taken power in Tunisia and Egypt is that no one can paint them as wins for the big, bad Westerners – and yet, thus far, these parties have taken firm stands against the real Islamist baddies and proven themselves at least reasonably dependable allies in the fight for democracy. Libya, by electing a more liberal slate, won’t be shielded from the charge of having somehow caved to the Western powers. That might make things harder for the new administration.
Of course, the kind of people who would claim that the West has installed a leader in Libya are loath to admit any kind of proof that what they think might be wrong, so perhaps I am overstating the downside to this. It’s not like people would doubt the West has installed a crony even if the most stern Salafist won election. Those people are going to believe what they want to believe.
Perhaps a more optimistic view is in order, in fact. Though the hardcore-left “anti-imperialist” ideologue will not be convinced Libya is headed for better times because a non-Islamist slate carried the day in the elections, it seems there is some opinion amongst foot-dragging centrists and rightists that the election provides evidence of what they did not think possible – that Islamists would fail to win the election in Libya.
The more conservative Telegraph newspaper in the UK took the election to demonstrate that the spirit of the Arab Spring, which they appear to have been willing to write off, was still alive in Libya: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/9386860/The-Arab-Springs-spirit-still-burns-in-Libya.html . For many centre and right talking heads, the Arab Spring was an exercise in idealistic naïveté because only undemocratic governments could save the world from a wave of theocratic Islamist nutjobs sweeping to power. Granted, the Muslim Brotherhood-identified parties that won in Tunisia and Egypt have powerfully demonstrated their moderated nature, but no matter – Tunisia and Egypt serve to them as proof they were right that only Ben Ali and Mubarak held back the teeming unwashed mob from those they would destroy as infidels. But look out, here comes Libya, where many expected the Islamists to also win…electing a comparatively liberal, tolerant and pragmatic slate instead of the minions of the Brotherhood.
Those who thought it would are left, in the wake of Libya’s vote, trying to patch together what’s left of their prejudices. And that’s a good thing.
I’m hoping that sooner or later something will happen in the Arab and Muslim world that leave phony “anti-imperialists” patching together what’s left of _their_ prejudices. Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. But it will happen.