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Libya creeping toward democracy

Libyans poured into the streets last weekend to celebrate the second anniversary of the revolution that ousted autocrat Muammar Qaddafi and set Libya on the road to democracy. Two years later, there has been mixed success but Libyans say they are still in the mood to celebrate.
“It was amazing, just awesome,” Khawla Msalatik, a young female journalist with The Tripoli Post said about the Tripoli celebration. “Everybody was so happy. We were singing and dancing and climbing on top of the cars. I am 100 percent optimistic about the country’s future.”
Libya is still far from achieving democracy, but many say the country is moving forward.
“There were always three options for Libya,” Richard Dalton, the British ambassador to Libya from 1999-2002, said. “It could collapse into disorder, it could have a perfect transition to democracy, or it could muddle through with some things going right and others going badly. We’re in the midst of that scenario right now and more is going right than is going badly.”
He cited Libya’s legitimate elected assembly, an elected government, continued oil production, and a functioning banking system as examples.
Yet others say that in some parts of the country, especially the eastern province of Benghazi, armed militias have taken over. Ansar Al-Shariah, a radical movement, which participated in the killing of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens last September, set up roadblocks. Some in Benghazi are calling for the province to secede from the country.
“The basic problem is to build a national and civic feeling that will replace the tribes and ethnic (identity),” wrote Musa Al-Karifa in an article for the Libyan newspaper Al-Watan. “Without it we may split into provinces and tribes and lose the country.”
Libya’s neighbors Egypt and Tunisia are struggling with their own transitions to democracy. But in both cases, government institutions were in place even before the revolutions. In Libya, activists are struggling to create those institutions.
In August, Libya’s new National Assembly elected former opposition leader Mohammed el-Megarif as interim president. He lived as a fugitive for many years in Germany and was openly critical of the Qaddafi regime.
He has led efforts to establish a committee to draft a constitution. But mass protests swept the country, saying the committee should be elected, not appointed. That is expected to delay the writing of a constitution for at least a year.
“The delay of the constitution is causing a lot of anxiety,” Dalton said. “But electing the assembly is a way forward and I think they’ll have a constitution by the end of this year or early next year. There are enough people working together and moving in the right direction for Libya to be able to cope with that delay.”
Another controversial move is the decision not to allow anyone who had any connection with the Qaddafi regime to participate in the new government. Called the “political exclusion law” it bars thousands of former members of the regime’s bureaucracy from holding public office, making it hard to find experienced officials.
The killing of the US ambassador has also affected Libya economically. Most Western countries still have travel advisories in place and many investors have fled.
“Foreigners are still afraid to come to Libya,” journalist Khawla Msalati said. “But I want to tell them that everything is calm and security is better than before. There are no problems, no fights, and no machine guns in the street. We are on the way to democracy.”

This article was written for The Media Line.