Advocating Secular Libyan Democracy

libya-democracy-democraticOn April 3, 2013, Sharnoff’s Global Views interviewed Ahmed Shebani, founder of The Democratic Party in Libya.

SGV: Opponents of the international intervention in Libya sometimes made it sound like the opposition was mostly Islamist and linked to al-Qaeda. How accurate was this depiction?

AS: The Islamists are clearly against the international intervention. But, ordinary Libyans are for it in principle given the mess Libya is currently experiencing. However, they want it to be decisive that the Islamists will be pacified effectively. Libyans want to be assured that it will result in a secular democracy.

SGV: Your party is strictly for secular democracy and recognizing the state of Israel. What has the reaction been to your party’s position and how much support does your party have?

AS: We are the first political party to emerge following the outbreak of our glorious February 17 revolution. Yes, we still remain the only secular political party in Libya until today. We see our role similar to the Young Turks who championed the late Turkish leader Ataturk. The only difference between us and them is the fact we have carved the separation between the mosque and state using our own tools (i.e. The holy Quran and Sunnah).

We adhere to the policy of recognizing the state of Israel according to the Arab Peace Initiative. This policy of recognizing Israel follows the Turkish and Egyptian examples and not the under table recognition by the hypocritical Qatari and Saudi regimes. The Arab Spring has defeated fear in us and gave us public opinion and transparency. The Israelis are not from Mars, they come from the same soil as us. They are here to stay. The Democratic Party in Libya also adopts the two state solution which upholds the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

Libyans want to do away with everything Gaddafi represented including all anti-Western politics. They admire the courage, patriotism and liberalism of the Democratic Party. We have 7,500 members. More than 60% are Libyan women and 90% are below the age of 30. Hence, the Libyan youth are ready to be persuaded regarding the recognition of Israel.

We have an ambitious future plan to establish a virtual Middle Eastern Parliament to act as an effective catalyst in the democratization process of the region. Since Israel is the only vibrant functioning democracy in the region, we expect Israel to lead this virtual platform to inspire the others. We propose that the current quest for peace and normalization in the Middle East should be accompanied by a parallel popular movement to be called “Project Abraham.”

This project will involve the concerted efforts of nongovernmental international organizations, academic institutions and civil societies. It will require the drafting of a project charter to be named The Abrahamic Charter. This charter’s draft should involve the widest possible popular participation so that it will be principally a peoples’ charter. Furthermore, we propose that Jerusalem will become the “City of God.”

It is the firm belief of the Democratic Party that Jerusalem needs to become the capital of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It shall be a demilitarized city of prayer and pilgrimage where no politics is discussed. It will be an independent state similar to the Vatican but it will be administered by a secular body set by the United Nations. Instead of being a thorny issue of conflict and discord between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Jerusalem with its new proposed status will become the cornerstone of peace not only in the Middle East, but between the followers of the three monolithic religions all over the world. It will be the key to world peace.

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SGV: Why do you have hope that Libya, with its many militias and tribes, can turn into a functioning secular democratic state?

AS: Libyans want economic empowerment, peace and prosperity. One of the most important indicators that we will hold the current Libyan government accountable for is jobs for the youth. If you do not support the youth and open new opportunities for them it means we have failed the Arab Spring goals. The Libyan youth are desperately seeking a leadership to make their dreams come true. They also recognize that we deed international assistance. Finally, our political manifesto will not only change Libya but the whole region too.

SGV: After the murder of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, there were pictures of Libyans protesting the terrorist attack and even holding American flags. Is pro-American sentiment widespread or was the media making a big deal about a small rally?

AS: We wish to convey our heart-felt condolences to the late Ambassador’s family and the American people. We also congratulated President Obama on the trust the American people put in him. We have hope that the United States will engage more actively in the effort to bring genuine peace to the Middle East.

Genuine peace can only be realized through democracy. Since when have you heard two democracies going to war? There must be a democratically elected parliament in every Arab country which will recognize Israel and that the Israeli parliament will reciprocate accordingly. That way peace will be made between the Arabs and Israelis in order for it to be genuine and everlasting.

The Arab Spring is not about replacing secular military dictatorships with religious ones. It is extremely crucial that the international community support the Syrian people in the struggle for freedom and democracy in the same way they helped us. It is of the essence that Syria will become a secular democracy as it is a key country in bringing about peace in the Middle East. God willing.

However, this vision of popular peace will require the emergence of a new generation of young Arab politicians who will be able to translate it into reality. They will be ready to abandon the old Nasserist mind-set of throwing Israel into the sea which has brought ruin on the Arab World and disaster humanity.

Of course, the Libyans love the United States. The murder of the US Ambassador was orchestrated outside Libya and executed on Libyan soil. Libyans had nothing to do with this crime. Those brain washed thugs were no more than 300; yet few weeks following this incident more than 30,000 ordinary Libyans in a city of 700,000 came out to say this is Benghazi not Kandahar. Libyans want to see their country become a second California, but they know that the current Libyan political elite are incapable of turning Libya into a second Tunisia let alone a second California.

SGV: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.

Ahmed Shebani is Founder of The Democratic Party in Libya. Read other articles by Ahmed.