BENGHAZI, Libya — A coalition led by a Western-educated political scientist appeared on Sunday to be beating Islamist parties in Libya’s first election in the post-Khadafy era, standing apart from an overwhelming Islamist wave sweeping across neighboring Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings.
The preliminary results were characterized by independent monitors and party representatives who witnessed the vote counting for a new national assembly. Official results may be days away.
The surprising outcome may reflect the relative novelty of political debate in Libya, as well as the reputation and tribal connections of the coalition’s founder, Mahmoud Jibril.
Jibril, 60, is a member of Libya’s most populous tribe, the Warfalla, as well as the former interim prime minister who helped lead the de facto rebel government in Benghazi.
But Jibril and his coalition also stood out from other opponents of Islamists around the region because they did not hurl accusations of extremism against those who called for Islamic law.
Like the Islamists and almost every other major faction here, Jibril’s coalition pledged to make Islamic law a main source of legislation, though not the only one.
Ideological lines remained fuzzy, and many voters acknowledged plans to let tribal or family ties guide their vote. But the Islamists sought to portray Jibril’s coalition as ‘‘liberal’’ or ‘‘secular’’ — and some who stood with him acknowledged privately that for them those terms were perfectly apt.
Jibril himself echoed a frequent refrain of Libyan voters unsure what to make of reemergent groups like the Muslim Brotherhood: ‘‘Do they think they are more Muslim than we are?’’
A former professor of political science who earned his doctoral degree and then taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Jibril said in a recent interview on Libyan television that his neighbors in either the United States or Libya would describe him as someone who ‘‘goes to the mosque for Friday prayers, and we see that he prays.’’
“The Libyan people don’t need either liberalism or secularism, or pretenses in the name of Islam because Islam, this great religion, cannot be used for political purposes. Islam is much bigger than that,’’ he said.
The apparent success of his party over the Muslim Brotherhood’s bloc now makes Jibril perhaps the most important voice in the next stage of Libya’s political transition after the fall of Moammar Khadafy. That phase is expected to include the drafting of a new constitution.
Several estimates say that in the portion of a planned national assembly decided by a contest between parties, Jibril’s coalition, the National Forces Alliance, had won as much as 80 percent of the vote in the Western region around Tripoli and more than 60 percent of the vote in the Eastern region around Benghazi.
Jibril’s Warfalla tribe, which accounts for roughly a million of Libya’s 6 million inhabitants, has its heaviest presence in both of those critical regions.
The party that appeared to be running second, the bloc established by the Muslim Brotherhood, appeared to receive only about 20 percent or less in both regions, parties and monitors said, indicating a trend likely to carry over into the competition between individual candidates as well.
Another loosely Islamic party founded by Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a former leader of an armed Islamist insurgency here who became the head of Tripoli’s military council, also fell short. It was expected to be a major competitor but appeared to end up with even less support than the Brotherhood.
The initial results came a day after election-related violence killed at least two people and armed assaults on polling places forced the closure of several of them in the eastern coastal region. But 94 percent of polling places had opened, the interim government said Saturday, with turnout at over 60 percent.
Among Jibril’s most vocal opponents were the militia leaders from the coastal city of Misurata, who emerged as a powerful force in the interim government. Reports from Misurata on Sunday indicated that Misurata had favored a new party founded by Abdurrahman Sewehli, a prominent descendant of that slain hero. Islamists did not appear to dominate there either.
Jibril left his job as interim prime minister under a cloud. In addition to criticism that he failed to do enough for average Libyans, he was criticized for spending too much of his life in the United States and too much of the fight against Khadafy jetting around foreign capitals.
Some also faulted him for his work before the uprising as the director of planning in the Khadafy government. Jibril was a proponent of economic liberalization and considered an ally of Khadafy’s son, Seif al-Islam.
But he quit the Khadafy government to form the self-appointed National Transitional Council as soon as the insurrection began, and his liberal image and political sophistication were vital to securing the Western military support that ultimately enabled the rebels to unseat Khadafy.