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Observers refuse to draw regional parallels from Libya's liberal swing

AMMAN -- Observers have warned against misreading the surprise victory by liberals in last week's Libyan elections as an end to the rise of Islamists in the Arab world — claiming that the unique legacies of the Moammar Gadhafi regime, and not ideology, led to their poor showing.

Analysts say the impact of four decades of iron-rule and a lack of organization placed Islamists at a “natural disadvantage” in the country's first elections since the toppling of the Gadhafi regime, paving the way for the upset victory by a coalition of parties and independent politicians led by the former interim-prime minister Mahmoud Jibril.

According to some observers, one of the major factors behind the Islamists' less-than-stellar showing was a positive legacy of the Gadhafi regime that set Libya apart from its Arab Spring neighbors: a more egalitarian society.

At a time when Egypt, Tunisia and much of the Arab world suffered from rising unemployment and widening wealth gaps, Libya was largely free of the abject poverty that observers say usually serve as “breeding grounds” for Islamist movements.

Sami Zaptia, managing editor of the Tripoli-based Libya Herald, said: “In Libya, we just do not have the slave-like poverty you find in Egypt and other parts of North Africa.”

“Instead of services or employment, Libyans are looking for policy solutions and a vision, which is what the Islamists lacked.”

While Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia allowed Islamists to operate charitable societies, religious schools and even run for parliament for decades, Gadhafi tortured potential dissidents and dismantled any non-state organizations — depriving Islamists the opportunity to establish a foothold in Libya.

“For almost half a century, there have not been Islamist movements in Libya — they are just a complete unknown,” Zaptia said. “In this sense, unlike Egypt, everyone had an even playing ground in this election.”

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