Libya's Islamists are forming a new party that will be run on the "moderate" Libyan cleric Dr Ali al-Sallabi announced during an interview carried in Thursday's British national daily newspaper, The Daily Telegraph.
Dr Al-Sallabi, who spent eight years in the former regime's most notorious prison Abu Salim, and described as the figurehead of Libya's Islamist movement, told the newspapr that a provisional manifesto had already won support from some of the country's most important political and religious leaders.
At the same time he denied reports that he would stand for President himself but confirmed his long-predicted move into secular politics.
He said his movement supported basing Libya's constitution on Sharia law, but that it would be moderate and pursue democratic politics on the model of similar parties in Turkey and Tunisia.
The new party's provisional name - The National Gathering for Freedom, Justice and Development – is a nod both to Turkey's ruling party, the Justice and Development Party, and that set up by the Muslim Brotherhood in neighbouring Egypt, the Freedom and Justice Party.
Like those parties, and the Islamist Ennahda which won Tunisia's first post-Arab Spring election, the party's traditionalist but all-embracing ideology hopes to win it mass support. "This is not an Islamist party but a nationalist party, but its political agenda respects the general principles of Islam and Libyan culture." Dr Sallabi told The Telegraph.
Until the revolution Dr Sallabi had been living in exile in Qatar. He is a close ally of Abdulhakim Belhaj, the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who was once extradited to Libya with MI6 support and who now heads the Tripoli Military Council.
Dr Sallabi said Mr Belhaj, along with other prominent Islamists such as Mohammed Busedra, once the country's best-known political prisoner, were among those endorsing the new party. It was also backed by tribal leaders and members of the National Transitional Council.
The newspaper said that the cleric attempted to reassure secular Libyans and the West about its future direction, saying Western intervention over Libya had changed its relations with the Muslim world.
"The attitude of America, Britain, and France has made a significant impact on the majority of Muslims," he said. "In general towards the West there is now a good feeling rather than a bad feeling."
Dr Sallabi said he supported the lifting of the AL Qathafi-era laws banning polygamy. But added that NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, had gone too far in announcing that non-Islamic finance would be banned in the new Libya.
"This is his opinion, nothing else," he said, adding he himself would defer to the opinion of bankers and economists. "We are part of international banking systems," he added.
The new party's manifesto has been drawn up with the help of Ali Abusedra, a lawyer based in London's Kensington Church Street while living in exile. Al Sallabi said it had not yet worked out detailed policy positions but was largely in line with secular principles.
(Source: The Tripoli Post)