After Qaddafi, Libyans Applaud Sharia Law

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Libya's top leader Mustafa Adbdel Jalil surprised international observers on Sunday with the declaration that his newly-liberated country would impose new laws that adhered to Islam."We are an Islamic state," said Jalil, the head of the Transitional National Council, at Keish square in Benghazi, where tens of thousands of Libyans gathered. Jalil doesn't have the ability to implement before elections are held next June, but aspects of Sharia Law seem to hold symbolic importance as Libya moves toward democracy after over four decades under Muammar Qaddafi. The speculation was based on two specific policy reforms Jalil called for:

  • Usury In a policy that won "thunderous applause," The Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan reports that Jalil advocated disallowing the charging of interest, referred to as usury. "The interest [on loans] will be ruled out. You will not pay it anymore,” he said. Clarifying his position, senior Libyan officials told the Post  "he wanted to outlaw interest on housing and personal loans, but not on business loans."
  • Marriage According to Reuters, Jalil said "We as a Muslim nation have taken Islamic sharia as the source of legislation, therefore any law that contradicts the principles of Islam is legally nullified." This includes changing marriage laws to allow men to more easily take on a second wife reports the The Seattle Times staff from Benghazi. Farage Sayeh, the minister of capacity-building said "A lot of young ladies lost their husbands in the battle," noting that they desired new partners. As it stands, a Libyan man must get his wife's permission in front of a judge to take on a new wife.

Was this expected? Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell says the extent to which Jalil went into details about the news was unusual. "What is somewhat alarming is the way Abdel Jalil simply decreed these things from the podium. If Libyans want to outlaw interest and bring back polygamy, fine, but let them do so in a democratic and transparent way: Write a new constitution and let the country vote on it." At the same time,  The Seattle Times emphasizes that this may have been more of an exercise in religious pandering than anything else.  "Abdul-Jalil is" is considered religious but not an extremist. His comments may have been intended to win over support from Islamists within the military command, as well as score points with ordinary Libyans fed up with high interest rates on loans." Downplaying the sharia factor, Al Jazeera notes that Jalil vowed to create a "democratic state based on Islamic law" focused on liberty. "No retribution, no taking matters into your own hands and no oppression. I hope that the revolution will not stumble because of any of these things," Jalil said.

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