Kim Sengupta: The Arab Spring has given way to an Islamist summer, but not in Libya


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The Independent Online

Of the countries of the Arab spring that overthrew repressive regimes, the conflict in Libya was the most vicious and prolonged. This led to the conclusion that the people who would emerge in power would be the Islamist fighters who were increasingly in evidence.

The victories of Enhada in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, neighbouring states which had gone through their own uprisings, helped to reinforce the vision of resurgent religious groups sweeping all before them.

But Libya is where this narrative seems to have turned to a different page. Despite their organised campaigns – bankrolled, it is claimed, by their sponsors in Qatar and Saudi Arabia – the results for the Islamist parties appear to be poor.

The strong performance of an alliance of parties was a surprise to some because its leader, Mahmoud Jibril, was deemed to be too Westernised. Mr Jibril is keen not to be called liberal and certainly not secular.

However, being a non-Islamist and not being beholden to foreign theocratic states has not been a bad thing at the polls. Even in the conservative east a common theme has been that Libyans are a Muslim people and don't need to be told how to be Muslims. The perceived influence of the Gulf countries is a source of resentment and, for some, a reason to turn away from the hardline religious parties.

A group of students in Benghazi assured me that Abdul Hakim Belhaj – a former guerrilla leader who is suing the British government for its part in his rendition – was so much in Qatar's pocket that even his party colours were that of Qatar Airways. In fact there is a definite difference in shades, but the young men were convinced that they had seen the true colours of the Islamists.