Libya's ruling National Transitional Council issued a new law Wednesday that bans parties based on religious principles, the council spokesman said. The surprise move was denounced by Islamists organizing to compete in upcoming elections.
Mohammed al-Hareizi said the provision, included in a law which governs the formation of political parties, was designed to preserve "national unity."
"Parties shouldn't be based on ethnic or religious ideologies," he said. "We don't want the government to be divided by these ideological differences."
Islamists, like most political or religious groups in Libya, were long suppressed by former dictator Moammar Gadhafi. He was killed by Libyan rebels in October after eight months of fighting.
The law comes two months ahead of the country's first general elections to choose a 200-member assembly tasked with writing a new constitution and forming a government.
Islamic parties and movements have moved to fill the political vacuum left by the collapse of authoritarian regimes after last year's Arab Spring uprisings. In Tunisia and Egypt, Islamists made significant political gains in parliamentary elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Libya's most organized political movement, denounced the move.
"This is not democracy," said Mohammed Gaira, spokesman for the Freedom and Development party founded by the Muslim Brotherhood earlier this year.
"We don't understand this law ... It could mean nothing, or it could mean that none of us can participate in the election," he added. "We are a nationalist party and Islam is our religion. This law is unacceptable and only suits liberals."
Former militants from the Islamic Fighting Group which fought Libyan security forces in the 1990s have also formed a party, the Nation Party.