During his speech at Libya’s ‘liberation’ ceremony held in the city of Benghazi on Sunday, the head of the interim National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdul Jalil made a few announcements that must have raised eyebrows among people with hopes for a moderate system that respects basic human rights and democratic governance of the country.
Abdul Jalil began his speech with a religious edict, telling the crowd that firing guns in the air as a way of thanking Allah for victory is Haram, meaning prohibited. He then went on to announce that Libya’s future legal system would be based on Islamic Shariah law, and that banks will be required to follow the Islamic banking system, which bans charging interest. But the most seemingly surprising part of the speech is the NTC chief’s announcement of reinstating polygamy. The statement highlighted the importance of polygamy in the new Libya, and Abdul Jalil, an inexperienced politician, evidently did not forget to “liberate” men in Libya’s day of “liberation.”
If Libyan women, who make up more than half of the country’s population, were asked to vote on a polygamy law, most of them would likely oppose it. Polygamy is a practice most Muslim women detest, but remain silent about it for fear they would be accused of going against Shariah.
When Libyans rose up against Muammar Qaddafi and fought eight months of war, with tremendous sacrifices, they did so for the sake of dignity and self-rule. If they want a legal system based on the Islamic Shariah law, they have the right to have it through a democratic process; it should not be imposed on them.
The NTC chairman enjoys wide support in Libya. He was one of the first to desert Qaddafi’s regime when he gave up his post as justice minister and joined revolutionaries in Benghazi. Since then, Abdul Jalil has had “revolutionary legitimacy” to represent Libyans and make urgent decisions on their behalf. In order for him to be able to make decisions on how Libyans should be governed for years to come, he now needs “electoral legitimacy.”
Abdul Jalil’s “liberation” speech should have been a historic one. Instead of reminding Libyans of the lofty principles of democracy, freedom, dignity, and nation-building, he addressed details that should be left for elected lawmakers to discuss.
But it should be noted that Abdul Jalil is an inexperienced politician; and both Libyan and international observers should cut him some slack. He has made some blunders before.