It’s just a few short lines in a draft of the new Libyan constitution that is circulating around on the internet but it’s enough to have some people worry about the shape and ideology of the new Libyan government that will ostensibly soon be taking over the country. The draft constitution says “Islam is the Religion of the State, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence,” and that’s enough to raise fears of Islamic law, or Sharia, being the foundation for a new Libyan government and legal system once Muammar Qaddafi’s regime falls. Before we all get carried away it’s worth noting that several Middle Eastern countries, with democratic governments, have similar language deferring to Islamic law principles in their constitutions—among them are Indonesia, Turkey and even Iraq. It’s also important to point out that there are no obviously Islamist elements in Libya’s transitional government, and indeed representatives of the rebel group have gone to great pains to play down any fears of a new religious theocracy taking over in Tripoli. But as street battles rage in the Libyan capital we should be looking ahead to the formation of a new government and the consideration challenges that government would face, from rebuilding a shattered economy to pulling together a very fractured country. What will a new Libyan government look like and will it have an Islamist bent to it?
Frederic Wehrey, senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation & an adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service