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 Islamist government.

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 on Monday.

“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 folly.

“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 power.

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.

“You cannot reestablish a Jewish community there after migration and the conflict.”

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 state.”

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 there.”

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