Many readers hopped on the mention of shari’ah as the ” the principal source of legislation” in Article 1 of the draft constitution proposed by Libya’s Transitional National Council. In view of other Arab constitutions (including Libya’s previous one), which mention shari’ah as a source, reference or inspiration for (as well as other things), this does not seem particularly noteworthy. It makes sense that an overwhelmingly Muslim and relatively conservative society would include such language in a key national document. The rest of the constitution stuck this reader as more interesting — it has many interesting and progressive promises in the section on the people’s rights. Apprehension is understandable, though, from the perspective of those allergic to religion used for crass and shallow identity politics and skeptical of its ability to facilitate a desirable regime that respect universal rights. In any case it might be more useful (though simplistic) to look at the issue this way:
(1) Libyans are heavily religious and the TNC’s stronghold in Benghazi has a strong association with political religion. (2) Ethnic and regional differences are likely to become contested issues in the transitional period and appealing to what most Libyans have in common (the country and their religion). This is not dissimilar to the manner in which religious identity was used during the Algerian Revolution, to bridge the ethnic, cultural and social gaps between Algerians, particularly Berbers and Arabs.
It is likely that the Libyans will dispute sections of their constitution. Though neither Arab nor Berber identity is mentioned in the document, if the Algerian and Moroccan experiences show anything, it is that one can write down as much as he likes in a constitution, national charter or statute and still not have any useful official employment of or proliferation of Berber or Arabic. In any case, Libyans have many more pedestrian and serious things to worry about in the interim than