Christian Science Monitor Features IRI’s Libya Poll

Eastern Libya poll indicates political Islam will closely follow democracy
The Christian Science Monitor
By Dan Murphy

A new poll of eastern Libyan public opinion released last week indicates that political Islam is set to play a major role in the country’s future if institutions emerge that take into accout the will of the general public.

The poll sponsored by the International Republican Institute (a US-government funded non-profit) found a high degree of optimism about the future, concerns about the security situation in the country, and conservative (and somewhat contradictory) attitudes when it comes to faith and politics.

In Eastern Libya, 83 percent said freedom of the press was “important,” and 71 percent said it was important to have laws giving equal rights to “religious and tribal groups,” which would seem to indicate concern for protecting minority rights. But 94 percent agreed with the proposition that “people should be prohibited from offending” religions and 85 percent agreed that “religion should be part of government” (68 percent of those “strongly agreed.”) Asked about whether a “secular” state was a good idea, 69 percent of Libyans dissaproved against 14 percent that approved.

None of this means that a Saudi Arabian style regime is in the offing. Many Arab’s take the word “secular” to mean something like “Godless,” so the notion of secularism is offensive. But there’s a long continuum from there to religious rule. But over time, it would be natural for groups like the Libyan version of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has emerged as the dominant power in Egypt’s ongoing parliamentary elections, to develop a major voice in politics (Qaddafi suppressed Islamist political activism as ruthlessly as he did all other challenges to his rule).

The poll was carried out in mid-October, as Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown and last bastion, Sirte, was falling to the rebellion, which probably pushed results in a positive direction. Not only did optimism surge at the time of Qaddafi’s death, which effectively ended the civil war, but eastern Libya was less touched by the ravages of war than Western towns like Tripoli, Sirte, and Misrata.

But the numbers are still striking. In Eastern Libya, 84 percent of respondents said they were positive about the future and that the National Transitional Council (NTC), the unelected group that’s promised to guide Libya to democracy, were doing a good job. Meeting these high expectations may be a challenge though.

Asked what government priorities should be, 97 percent said it was “very important” for the government to provide food and housing for the poor and 72 percent said it was “very important” for the government to “play a central role in the economy and business sector.” The context for that second answer is that Libya’s oil wealth has made the government the country’s largest employer, by far. Though they may have hated Qaddafi, Libyans agreed with him that it’s the state’s responsibility to deliver jobs and economic growth. You can expect whatever government emerges to play a dominate role in the economy, at least in the medium term.

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