What Role Will Islamists Play In Libya? The Muslim Brotherhood is among the factions seeking to play a role in the new Libyan government. But moderate Libyans say they do not believe Islamists will become the dominant force in the country.
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What Role Will Islamists Play In Libya?

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What Role Will Islamists Play In Libya?

What Role Will Islamists Play In Libya?

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Leaders of the revolution in Libya are trying to pull together an interim government. But the effort has stalled as various factions vie for influence. Those factions include members of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, and that's raising fears, largely in the West, that Islamist radicals may try to co-opt the revolution.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Tripoli on Libya's political growing pains.

COREY FLINTOFF: Moammar Gadhafi feared the Muslim Brotherhood and with good reason. They were involved in efforts to overthrow him in the 1990s, and he responded with a ferocious crackdown that put many of them in jail. The Brotherhood has been involved in the current revolution since the beginning.

In general, its members say they want a state governed by Islamic law and institutions. Amin Belhaj is a member of the rebel leadership group, the Transitional National Council, and a member of the Brotherhood.

Speaking in a hotel lobby where rebels of all persuasions mingle, he says Islam should pervade every aspect of Libyan society, especially its government.

AMIN BELHAJ: The society will be governed by a certain government who should understand Islam as we believe. That's what we want.

FLINTOFF: That, he says, means justice and equality under Islamic law. Belhaj says that his views on social values are very little different from those of conservative Christians in the United States. By Libyan standards, those views are not extreme.


FLINTOFF: Religion already pervades most of Libyan life, as ubiquitous as the call to prayer, when men stream into Tripoli's mosques. Most women wear clothing that covers everything except their faces and hands. And Libyans generally hold socially conservative opinions on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and prostitution.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the Transitional National Council, said at a recent rally that Shariah, Islamic law, should be the main source of Libya's laws. He added that Libyans will not accept any extremist ideology, either to the right or the left.

Ali Tarhouni, an economist who serves as deputy prime minister on the council, agrees that Libyans believe in a moderate form of Islam, but acknowledges that extremism is a concern.

D: This version of radicalization, I think that's an issue that we're concerned about and we talk about it openly. But so far, regardless of what you see, I'm not too worried about it.

FLINTOFF: Tarhouni and other members of the TNC were recently denounced by a prominent Muslim Brotherhood cleric as extreme secularists. He and others have dismissed that as rhetoric, part of the back-and-forth of political maneuvering.

Mohammed Saleh Abdul Jalil Sabur, the imam of one of Tripoli's main mosques, says the clergy should stay out of politics, but he also believes that Libyans will resist extremism.

BLOCK: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He says, thank God we're not radicals here. Most people know that the Taliban and al-Qaida are anti-Islam, because in our belief, you cannot kill people, no matter who they are.

But Sabur says there is a place for the Muslim Brotherhood in Libyan politics, as long as they're not armed and not radical.

Brotherhood members say they believe that they can reach an Islamic state through democratic persuasion. Again, Amin Belhaj.

BELHAJ: Anyone who is logic, he should believe that democracy is the best way to get to the freedom state, even to the Islamic state.

FLINTOFF: Khaled Zarrugh, a Brotherhood member who spent eight years in one of Gadhafi's prisons, says it won't happen quickly.

KHALED ZARRUGH: I don't expect the Muslim Brotherhood to lead the country, at least for the first. After two years from now, I don't expect any party will be the lead the country. It will be, I think, share.

FLINTOFF: He says the Brotherhood is not that strong politically, but others say the group is the best organized and could win a significant number of seats in an election.

Zarrugh says his model for Libya is Turkey, where he says Prime Minister Erdogan has shown that Muslim conservatives and right-of-center politicians can win democratically and rule responsibly.

Right now, he says, the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya is just getting started.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Tripoli.

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