Libya’s new leaders declared their nation “liberated” on Sunday, paving the way for elections and a constitution that the revolutionary government says will put the country on a path to its first representative democracy.
The long-awaited pronouncement came with a heavy dose of Islamist sentiment, as Mustafa Abdul Jalil, leader of the transitional government, embraced the Muslim code known as Sharia law as a foundation for future legislation.
During his more than four decades in power, Moammar Kadafi viewed Islamists as a threat and jailed hundreds of suspected religious militants. But Jalil, a former justice minister in Kadafi’s regime, signaled that Islam would have a central place in the new Libya, imposing two Islamic-style edicts — capping interest rates and lifting restrictions on how many wives men may have.
Islamists are one of a number of groups seeking a stake in the new Libya. Many Libyans are also advocating a secular state. The transitional leaders have repeatedly emphasized the nation’s “moderate” version of Islam and dismissed as far-fetched the notion of an Iranian-style theocracy emerging in Libya. Still, some Western leaders who backed the rebellion have voiced concern about the possible rise of fundamentalist rule in Libya.
The liberation declaration in the eastern city of Benghazi — where mass protests in February ignited what morphed into a national rebellion — came three days after Kadafi was slain trying to flee his hometown of Surt when onetime rebels overran the coastal city. The suspicious circumstances of his death continue to draw international concern.
Libya’s provisional leaders say Kadafi was killed in battle or in crossfire after he was captured. But footage of a bloodied Kadafi being manhandled and taunted after his capture has raised suspicions that he may have been summarily executed.
The former leader’s decomposing body has remained on display in a cold-storage locker, a macabre spectacle that has unnerved some observers — though many Libyans have called it cathartic.
The Obama administration has joined with the United Nations in calling for an investigation into Kadafi’s death, expressing concern over what his treatment may portend in the new Libya.
Reuters reported Sunday that Kadafi’s son Saadi said he was “shocked and outraged by the vicious brutality” against his father and brother Mutassim, who was also captured alive in Surt and ended up dead under murky circumstances. A lawyer for Saadi Kadafi, a onetime aspiring Hollywood producer who fled to the African nation of Niger, denounced the “barbaric executions and grotesque abuse of the corpses.”
The demise of the longtime ruler, however, has been greeted with exultation inside Libya. Officials have pledged that Kadafi’s remains would be turned over to his tribesmen for burial.
Whatever form of government emerges, it is clear that Libya is about to undergo a radical overhaul.
A major challenge will be to form some kind of consensus government amid regional and tribal differences. Disarming the many militias that ousted Kadafi looms as a daunting task. The nation is awash in weapons
Although “Arab Spring” revolutions also triumphed in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, leading to the ouster of entrenched autocratic rulers, the two nations had functioning government structures, including militaries, that survived their respective revolutions. In Libya, however, Kadafi’s regime left few formal traces of government behind.
Libya’s new leadership is tasked with creating a government almost from scratch. Many among the Kadafi-era elite — including relatives and cronies of the leader — have been toppled, gone into hiding or fled the country.
Libyans also face a substantial rebuilding challenge: Several cities, including the coastal towns of Misurata and Surt, along with the mountain city of Zintan, suffered devastating damage unlike anything experienced during the revolutions in Egypt or Tunisia.
It was not immediately clear when Libya’s first elections would be held, though some have called for national polling within eight months. The full transition to a new democratic leadership has been projected to take two years.
In public comments Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pointed to one of the Kadafi era’s most notorious legacies — the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Clinton called on Libya to imprison Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, the former Libyan agent sentenced to life imprisonment in the attack, which cost 270 lives, mostly U.S. citizens. In 2009, Scottish authorities freed Megrahi, said to be suffering from prostate cancer, on grounds of compassion. He resides with his family in Tripoli and is said to be near death.
Times staff writer Christi Parsons in Washington contributed to this report.