News that a liberal coalition headed by Mahmoud Jibril, a Western-educated
politician, was reportedly in the lead in the Libyan election surprised many
observers on Monday.
The expectation was that Libya would follow in the
footsteps of other Arab Spring countries – like Egypt and Tunisia – and elect an
One person, however, who was not surprised by the
turn of events, was Prof. Maurice Roumani, an expert on Libya at Ben-Gurion
University of the Negev.
“There will be Islamists and Salafis in Libya
but they will not dictate the national agenda,” Roumani told The Jerusalem Post
“The country’s problems are more geographic,” referring to the
strong rivalry between its two main regions Cyrenaica and Tripolitinia and the
many fiercely independent tribes in between.
Roumani, who was born in
Benghazi and left the country in 1960 at age 21, said the country’s
“fragmentation is its source of strength against the Islamists. There, there is
tribal power. A society of tribes.”
“First of all Islam in Libya in
general is not a homogeneous group,” he said. “The idea that Islamists are going
to take over in Libya is not correct.”
Having said that, the political
scientist said religion will continue to have an important place in Libya’s
Muslimmajority society. To expect anything else, he said, would be
“Islam is the backbone of Arab civilization and we must accept it
whether it’s in Libya, Tunisia or Egypt, otherwise we are knocking our heads
against the wall,” he said. “In Israel is Judaism not part of its politics?” He
said the Mediterranean country is now entering a crucial time. How it deals with
some key issues will help shape its future.
“First we have to look
whether we will have a federal state or united Libya,” he said. “Second, we
would like to see what kind of constitution emerges. Third, we need to see if
the militias will surrender their weapons and a strong army will provide
security. This country had no political institutions for 40 years or more, even
under King Idris,” the monarch deposed by Muammar Gaddafi when he came to
Those expecting Libyan Jews to be able to return to the country
they were forcibly kicked out of during the late 1960s by the slain despot
Gaddafi are likely to be disappointed, he said.
“I am a believer that
history moves on, it does not have a reverse gear,” he said.
reestablish a Jewish community there after migration and the
Even compensation of some Libyan Jews, who were forced to
leave vast material assets behind when they were sent into exile, may remain
stalled in the foreseeable future, despite intensive lobbying by Jewish groups
and the State Department.
“Libya is not going to take a step much
different than Middle-Eastern Arab governments, especially when the Israeli-Arab
conflict was not resolved,” he said. “If I were a Libyan Muslim I would expect
it to be the part of the final settlement, otherwise it might turn into a pariah
On a personal note, Roumani said he would like to visit the
country he left 52 years ago and has never been back to – but only as a tourist,
not a returning resident.
“Do I feel like going to see where I was born
and did my bar mitzva? Yes,” he said. “I would be interested to see if some of
my former friends, who were Greeks, Maltese, Italians and Muslims, are still
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