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Neither liberal nor Islamist: Who are Libya's frontrunners? (+video)

Libya's National Forces Alliance has claimed the lead as election results roll in. The big-tent coalition appears headed for victory, but it's still unclear what its goals are.

By Correspondent / July 9, 2012

Mahmoud Jibril speaks at a press conference at the National Forces Alliance headquarters in Tripoli, Libya, Sunday.

Manu Brabo/AP

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Tripoli, Libya

Two days after Libyans voted in their first elections in more than four decades – a key step toward remaking their country after Qaddafi – many are talking about a possible liberal win in a country long seen as conservative.

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Mahmud Jibril, leader of a political coalition said to be trending well as votes are tallied in Libya, calls for all parties to come together under one banner to form a coalition government.

Votes are still being counted, but yesterday, the National Forces Alliance coalition (NFA) claimed an unofficial lead in congressional elections, something the two main Islamist groups acknowledged. Now the question is: with NFA leader and former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril rejecting both the liberal label and the Islamist, what does the NFA intend? And what do Libyans think it intends?

Two days ago, Libyans voted in their first elections in more than four decades – a key step toward remaking their country after the downfall last year of dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Votes are still being counted, but already Libyans are talking about a possible liberal win in a country long seen as conservative.

Yesterday, the National Forces Alliance coalition (NFA) claimed an unofficial lead in congressional elections, and two main Islamist groups acknowledged the claimed lead. But with NFA leader and former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril rejecting both the liberal label and its Libyan opposite, Islamist, what does the NFA intend? And, perhaps as important, what do Libyans think it intends?

As Mr. Jibril tells it, the NFA is classic big tent politics: about 55 diverse parties and 100 individual candidates united to make Libya function after autocracy. 

“We’re not an ideological organization,” he told reporters at a press conference last night at the NFA’s headquarters. “We’re a mixture of different parties who have joined hands to rebuild this country.” 

For supporters, however, Jibril represents the Libya they want to see take shape: politically centrist, outward-looking, respectful of Islam but not beholden to it.

“I want a modern country, though not too liberal, because we’re Muslims,” says Nairuz Shihub, a young bank employee taking a lunch break this afternoon in the upscale district of Hay al Andalus. She voted for a party from within the NFA party. 

“Jibril has a lot of plans for the economy and for education, and he’s not closeminded like the Islamists,” she says. 

United by a common goal

A former prime minister in the interim government appointed last year by the National Transitional Council (NTC), Jibril toured Libya for months to meet local leaders, says Faisel Krekshi, the NFA’s secretary general. “The main thing they all have in common is a basic principle: Start building Libya,” Mr. Krekshi says.

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