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Libyan Candidates Seek Islam, Moderation

  • Al Pessin

TRIPOLI—More than 1,400 people are running for the 200 seats at stake in Saturday's National Assembly election in Libya - the country's first multiparty election in 60 years.

There is a lot of enthusiasm about the elections on the streets of Tripoli.

Khaled Zaarug, an engineer and banker and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood for more than 30 years - including eight spent in prison - is among 138 candidates for six seats allocated to his neighborhood.

"This is one of the happiest times for myself and most of the Libyan people," noted Zaarug. "You will see that on Saturday. You will find many people will be happy and crying for that, because this moment is not easy and the price is very high."

Zaarug believes Islamist candidates like himself will win at least one third of the seats. Some estimates are much higher. But he says Libya will chart a moderate course.

"I think what's happening in Turkey, I think, this is the model, I think, we are thinking to have in Libya, too," Zaarug added.

Zaarug says Libya needs a strong central government with an Islamist approach to ensure order and justice as well as freedom, and he says the policy priorities should include education and economic development.

Zaarug also says women should be guaranteed equal rights. But not everyone agrees. Campaign posters for some of the 625 female candidates have been defaced.

However, all of the women have stressed their Islamic credentials in their advertising, including teacher Eman Almagrbe, an independent candidate from a working-class neighborhood. Her top priority is education, but she also wants voters to know she has been endorsed by a famous Islamist activist.

"The people who encouraged me and other women to go into politics, and provided real support, are the genuine Muslims who want women to play their rightful role," said Almagrbe.

Almagrbe's husband spent six years in prison under Gadhafi, and that provided her motivation to run for office as soon as he was gone.

"The feelings inside me came up and exploded and gave me a lot of energy, and gave me the motivation to make the history of my country, making the new Libyan history, the true Libyan history, away from the dictatorship and injustice," Almagrbe added.

Almagrbe is concerned that money from the old regime will skew the election results, but she is also hopeful that just as these children play on the ruins of Libya's ancient Roman civilization, she and other new leaders will build a new civilization for them on the ruins of the dictatorship.
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