Sawan was elected Justice and Construction party leader by 51 percent of those present
Mohammed Sawan is seen during the establishment of the new Justice and Construction party, in the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 3. Libyan Islamists and independents have formed a new political party and elected a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood as its leader after a three-day conference. © Mahmud Turkia - AFP
Sawan was elected Justice and Construction party leader by 51 percent of those present
Dominique Soguel, AFP
Last updated: March 3, 2012

Libyan Muslim Brotherhood member picked to lead new party

Libyan Islamists and independents on Saturday formed a new political party, electing as its leader a Muslim Brotherhood member who was a political prisoner under the regime of dead dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Mohammed Sawan, jailed for eight years under the ousted regime of Kadhafi who had outlawed political parties as an act of treason, was elected Justice and Construction party leader after a three-day conference in the capital.

"I have real mixed feelings because I was imprisoned under Kadhafi for my attempts to create a political party, and I am grateful to the people here who have placed their trust in me," Sawan told AFP.

The Tripoli meeting brought together hundreds of people keen to take part in the launch of the new party. Votes on a wide range of issues, including the party's name, were taken by a show of hands.

Sawan nailed the support of 51 percent of those present in a run-off vote.

The party charter is still under discussion by an elected body, but Muslim Brothers, Islamists and independents held the conference with the shared aim of forming a "national party with an Islamic frame of reference."

"We aim for diversity and a state of law where differences in opinion are respected," Sawan said, later telling journalists that the party sees Islam as a religion that regulates all aspects of life, including politics.

There may be no law governing the formation of political parties in the new Libya, but political associations and coalitions are forming at a rapid pace.

Political associations of any kind were banned for decades under the iron-fisted rule of Kadhafi, who was toppled and killed in last year's popular uprising.

A sizeable number of the party's 1,360 constituent members are former prisoners, including Ali al-Kermi, an elderly Muslim Brother who says he spent three decades in prison for his political activities.

"We want the supremacy of the law and tolerance, not revenge," Kermi, who now leads an association of former political prisoners, told AFP.

"The party will reject any practice that violates human rights" because so many of its members have experienced such violations first hand, he said, adding that he was "proud of the revolution."

The conference also set in motion the election of 20 members of the party's shura council or advisory body. A further 25 members will be elected by party members nationwide, a party official said.

"Everything about this party is based on the democratic principle," said Nizar Kawan, one of the conference organisers.

The idea of the party was conceived during a November 2011 meeting of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli, Amin Belhaj, another founding member, told journalists.

He said a key goal was to bring together representatives from all of Libya and to include all ethnic groups in the party ranks.

"We have created a new era in Libya by electing a party leader democratically," said Khalil Sawalim, a UK-based rights activist.

Since the start of the so-called Arab Spring, elections in the region have benefited Islamists, including in Egypt, Libya's neighbour to the east, and in Tunisia to the west.

Similar outcomes are expected in June when Libya, which often emphasises its all-Muslim and moderate identity, is due to elect a constituent assembly.

"We are all Islamists and we want Libya to be at the summit of developed nations," Majda Fallah, a party activist, told a jubilant crowd including dozens of women.

The party aims to meet a minimum quota of 10 percent female representation, and Fallah told AFP she expects the party to exceed that benchmark.

Sawan also said he expected women to play a major role in the new party because women already play an active role in civil society and "more than 100 women's groups" helped put together the three-day event.

"We believe women can run in elections and have all their rights," he said.

Most of Libya's emerging parties emphasise Islam as a source of legislation.

Osama Mohammed, from Tarhuna, said the Justice and Construction party stood out because of the role it gives to Islamic law and the process of shura, or consultation.

"All Libyans are Muslims, but sharia is the common denominator through which we can settle our differences," he said.

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