Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Establishment of Sharia Law in Libya: Change Comes in Many Forms

Libya's new Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil announced on Sunday (October 23) that sharia would be Libya's principal law and that further, sharia will be the basis of legislation in newly liberated Libya. This statement has understandably raised concerns, especially among women, despite Islamic figures insisting that moderation will prevail.

"Any law that violates sharia is null and void legally," he stated, citing as an example the law on marriage passed during slain dictator Kadhafi's 42-year tenure that imposed restrictions on polygamy, which is permitted in Islam.

Abdel Jalil's surprising statements have provoked criticism and calls for restraint both in Libya and in Europe, amid fears that the so-called Arab Spring may give rise to a potentially intolerant Islamic state. The interim leader's unexpected

COMMENT: The interim leader's unexpected rhetoric without prior discussion with affected political groups is worrisome for two reasons: (1) The content of his speech conflict dramatically with the desires of most Libyans; and (2) Abel Jalil, a respected former justice minister who distanced himself from the the Kadhafi regime, was believed to have philosophically disagreed with extremism in any form. Strange.

Nevertheless, citizens often do not know the type of change they will have until it is too late. Power also has a way of corrupting the moderate.

What most Libyans were expecting in the new leader's speech were promises of greater freedoms, social welfare and educational reforms, yet they heard the same zero-tolerance Islamic control being discussed in Egypt, where tourism has suddenly dropped by 35% after hearing that beaches might well become segregated, rigid controls on the use of alcohol and proof of marriage before a couple can occupy the same hotel room.

In his speech, Abdel Jalil also announced the introduction of Islamic banking in Libya in keeping with sharia law, which prohibits the earning of interest, which is considered a form of usury. Even Adelrahman al-Shatr, one of the founders of the center-right Party of National Solidarity, launched just last week, said it was premature for Abdel Jalil to speak about the policies of the new state without discussion amongst stakeholders.

Women in particular are very worried about the establishment of sharia law as it relates to marriage and divorce, as women would lose the right to keep the family home if they divorce.

Western leaders also responded swiftly to Abdel Jalil's comments, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton saying on Monday (October24) that Libya's introduction of sharia law must respect human rights and democratic principles. If Ms. Ashton is actually expecting sharia law to be established, that is not good for the Libyan people.

Strangely, Abel Jalil seems to be speaking from two sides of his mouth, as his speech on Sunday, extremist as it was, changed the following day when he attempted to appease the international community by saying that Libyans are moderate Muslims. Clearly, he is seemingly being influenced by extremist voices.

Needless to say, and I hope I'm wrong, it appears that if sharia law actually is established in Libya, those that fought for freedom will have endured for naught. As it is often said, "Listen not to what people say, but what they actually do."

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