mercredi 26 octobre 2011

Sharia in Libya, moderation in Tunisia

Although the two countries are neighbors, many things differentiate them – whether it is their respective revolutions, public institutions or leaders.

On one side, we have Tunisia – a fine example of moderation in the Arab world. The people are relatively well educated thanks to a mandatory free education system and also benefit from a universal healthcare plan (ranked 52nd in the world by the WHO*). Even though a large percentage of the population practice religion, there are still many who ignore it completely – they drink alcohol, ignore Ramadan, don’t pray and don’t abide by Islamic law. In contrast, Libya has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to have a healthcare and education system like Tunisia’s. Lackluster medical care (ranked 87th by the WHO) forces citizens to seek treatment abroad – also greatly indebting themselves in the process. This article is one of many describing the situation under Gaddafi.

In terms of education, the situation is similar. Therefore, the recent proposition of unifying Libya’s school textbooks with Tunisia’s is a step in the right direction.

Religion is somewhat different also – Libya has embraced Sharia as the county’s set of laws. Chief of the national transition committee (NTC), Moustapha Abdeljalil, has said, in his first speech after the official liberation of Libya, that ‘‘as of now, Sharia is the upmost form of law in the country; conflicting regulations will be overruled.’’

This declaration isn’t very surprising since the NTC had mentioned it last August. There is however the question as to how legitimate this move is – seeing as the transition government was not elected to office by the masses. From that point of view, there is no doubt that the Tunisian transitional government probably could not have done a similar move without fearing public outrage.

Moustapha Abdeljalil, leader of the NTC.
Also, another distinction between the two countries, Tunisia’s main Islamic party Ennadha has stated that it has no plans to impose Islamic law or use it as the basis for the entire judicial system. They only wish to base parts of the Constitution on it – leaving out any aspects depriving individuals of their freedoms and liberties.

Now, is Libya’s decision cause for alarm? Islamologist Mathieu Guidère believes that it is not – on the short term at least. He reminds us (article in French) that Islamists in Libya only represent 20 to 30% of the population and that this fact should be pivotal in the election that will take place next year.

Mr. Guidère also points out that unlike Tunisia, which had revolutionaries of all religious backgrounds; Libya’s revolution was carried out mostly by Islamists. They were the ones who fought and died for their freedom.

So just what are the effects of this new law? ‘‘There will probably be more strict regulations on alcohol sales, Islamic banks (where it is prohibited to levy interest and to integrate speculation in financial transactions) could open and polygamy could also become legal as is already the case in many Gulf countries’’ says Mr. Guidère.

He also adds that ‘‘we shouldn’t expect restrictions on personal liberties or a new wave of violence. Libya has taken the path to an Islamic democracy; excluding Islamists would be risking radicalization.’’

*World Health Organization source.

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