The new Libya is considering how it will live by Islamic Sharia law, which includes some traditional practices which some countries consider inhumane.
Many Westerners were among those horrified when this vision was voiced just days ago amid celebrations over the death of Colonel Gaddafi.
It was by no means the first time such a prospect was raised, when the chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council, said: “We as a Muslim nation take Sharia as the basic source of law.”
But Mustafa Abdul-Jalil then softened this. The former minister of justice under the old regime has in the past been praised as fair and reasonable by international human rights bodies.
He said: “I want to assure the international community that we, as Libyans, are moderate Muslims.”
The political dimension to this is significant, as Islamists who opposed Gaddafi’s rule are expected to be part of the next government. It was their forces, after all, largely responsible for toppling him, who were in the front fighting lines.
Libya specialists do not see this as inconsistent. Gaddafi’s Libya was already a state of mixed values.
Interpretation of Sharia, which means ‘the way of God’s law’, differs. Modernists, traditionalists and fundamentalists hold different views. Customs, behaviour and penalties can be sources of intense debate.
Most Muslim countries’ legal systems are based on Sharia. Some apply it in a form considered radical by outsiders. This is the case in powerful Persian Gulf states and the Arabian peninsula, and in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some African countries. But in Egypt and Syria Sharia is applied moderately.
Western-based liberal jurisprudence has little chance of being given banner headlines in Libya’s evolving society, though western-developed institutions have been referred to in papers drafted to prepare the country’s future.
Gender-equality is a concern. Sharia applied to families governs marriage, divorce and child support and custody. In some countries, the law covers whether a woman may work, drive or have a bank account. For women then, freedom from Gaddafi is no guarantee of freedom in a modern democratic sense.