Libyan protesters storm government headquarters in Benghazi


Protesters stormed the Benghazi headquarters of Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) on Saturday while its chairman was still in the building demanding that Qaddafi-era officials be sacked and Islamic sharia law be the source of the North African country’s future constitution.

People in Benghazi, birthplace of the revolt which forced out former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, have been protesting for weeks to demand the sacking of Qaddafi-era officials and more transparency about how the NTC is spending Libyan assets.

The attack is a serious blow to the self-appointed but internationally recognized NTC, and underscores growing discontent over the way it is running the country.

“Islamic! Islamic!,” chanted the demonstrators, with some waving copies of the Quran, an AFP reporter at the site said.

A press statement distributed at the rally called for an article identifying Islam as the state religion to be added to the constitution.

That article should be non-negotiable and not subject to change in the forthcoming referendum on the constitution, it said.

“The protesters are calling for the sharia law as the source to be clearly stated in the constitution,” Ghaith al-Fakhri, an Libyan Islamist figure, present at Benghazi’s Tahrir Square told AFP.

Demonstrators also expressed opposition to any plan to make Libya a federal state.

The head of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, had declared on Oct. 23 during the “liberation” day function that sharia would be the main source of legislation in the new Libya.

“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,” Abdel Jalil said.

He made his declaration three days after the killing of Muammar Qaddafi that ended the bloody conflict against his rule which erupted last February from Benghazi and spread across the country.

The protesters are calling for the sharia law as the source to be clearly stated in the constitution

Ghaith al-Fakhri, an Libyan Islamist figure

Islamists in Tripoli

In addition to Benghazi, hundreds of Islamists demonstrated in squares in Tripoli and in Sabha in the southern desert.

In Tripoli’s Algeria Square, Islamists burned copies of the “Green Book,” Qaddafi’s eccentric handbook on politics, economics and everyday life, to underline that the Koran should be the country’s main source of legislation.

By contrast, a group of secularists who have staged a sit-in in the square for more than a month chanted: “We want a civil state.”

The Islamist demonstrators encompassed members of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood and harder-line Salafis, who both back strict versions of Islam, and relative moderates who prefer a civil state simply inspired by sharia.

The protests offered a glimpse into Libya’s political future in which Islamist and secularist parties are expected to vie for seats in a national assembly scheduled to be elected in June to draft a constitution for the North African country.

Experts believe the Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized political force and could emerge as the leading political player in Libya after Qaddafi, who harshly suppressed Islamists during his 42 years in autocratic power.

Western powers are coming to accept that the advent of democracy in the Arab world means bringing Islamists to power. They have become the biggest election winners in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco over the past few months.

The deputy central bank governor said last month a law regulating Islamic banking would be issued in the first quarter of 2012, but stressed that both conventional and Islamic banks would be allowed to operate in Libya.

Islamists in Algeria Square held up placards demanding a financial system respecting Islam’s ban on interest and calling for a constitution derived from sharia's legal and moral codes.

“We want to run our life according to Islamic principles, be it the economy, politics or our relations with other countries,” said Abdul Basit Ghuwaila, a preacher at a Tripoli mosque. “Most people think Islam is just about harsh penalties.”

Ghuwaila, 49, said sharia should not govern all Libyan law, but insisted that legislation should not contradict it.

Nour al-Zintani, a participant in the month-long sit-in for a secular state, said the majority of Libyans wanted Islam to be a part of their life but not a strict interpretation of it.

“We all want sharia,” she said, standing next to her teenage daughter, both of them wearing a Muslim headscarf, “but not the one they’re talking about, the one that rejects women. We want a moderate Islam that gives women their rights.”

We want to run our life according to Islamic principles, be it the economy, politics or our relations with other countries

Abdul Basit Ghuwaila, a preacher at a Tripoli mosque