Libya moving in right direction

Libya moving in right direction

Libya moving in right direction
There is good news coming from Libya: The country’s first free and open legislative election in nearly five decades has been an outstanding success. Yes last Saturday’s vote was marred by isolated attacks on polling stations, especially in the eastern region in and around Benghazi, but it could have been worse. At least two people were killed and some voting centers were looted while others remained closed. But overall it was a triumph for a nascent democratic experiment and a victory for the people of Libya.
Until a few weeks ago no one believed that Libyans could overcome the challenges that had emerged since the violent killing of Col. Muammar Qaddafi which closed the chapter on his autocratic regime. Tribal rivalries have pinned down attempts to unite the country and put it on the road of national reconciliation. Federalists in the east opposed elections while ethnic tensions in the south, between Arabs and Africans, increased fears that Libya could soon sink in a mire of civil wars. The central government in Tripoli was weak and divided and millions of Libyans were still out of work, while rebuilding efforts were stymied by lack of experience. Armed militias refused to hand in their weapons and a state of lawlessness had prevailed.
Still the elections were held and more than 60 percent of eligible voters voted for the first time in their lives for the 200 seat national congress. While official results will not be announced until the end of the week, early returns, reported by independent monitors and party representatives indicated that a liberal coalition of national forces, comprising 40 small parties, was on its way to record an historic victory. Libyans, it appears, have chosen not to hand power to Islamists, breaking their winning streak in elections held earlier in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
The liberal coalition is headed by pro-Western political scientist and former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril. He had campaigned against his rivals, a bloc of Islamists belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. It will take observers some time to understand how Jibril was able to turn the tide in his favor in a country that has no previous democratic experience and is largely tribal and conservative. The fact that he comes from the largest tribe in Libya, the Warfalla, may have been a major factor behind his stunning victory.
It is also important to note that his coalition is believed to have done well in Benghazi, the center of the revolution and of Libyans calling for a federal system that would divide Libya into three autonomous states. Federalists, who demand more power for the oil-rich province of Cyrenaica, had rejected their region’s share of seats in the new national congress. The ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), headed by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, had decided to deny the new assembly the right to write a new constitution. Instead and in a move to appease opponents in the east they will call on each region to send 20 representatives to form a constitutional committee. The newly elected assembly will form a new government that would replace the NTC. This latest ruling by the NTC has raised objections from political parties and activists.
But the road ahead for Libyans remains treacherous. The biggest test for the new assembly and government will be to lead the country from its current revolutionary mode to a more civil one. This means that heavily armed militias, especially in Misrata and Zintan, must be convinced to join a new national army. Building a state from scratch and overcoming the legacy of more than 40 years of totalitarian rule will not be easy. Convincing Libyans to adhere to a single authority over this vast land will prove difficult.
It is here that Libya needs world attention and help. After the success of the NATO-led military operation against Qaddafi’s regime, Libyans found themselves largely on their own. With world attention fixed on the Syrian crisis, Libya became old news. But without regional and international help the Libyans will find it difficult to build new institutions and attract foreign investments.
The good news is that Libya is not a poor country. It remains one of the wealthiest in North Africa. With a small population of only six million, its oil and gas earnings should be more than enough to help it get the best engineers and advisers needed for the difficult task of rebuilding.
The success of Saturday’s election represents one big leap forward. The fact that Libyans celebrated this historic day means that the majority wants to move on and unite behind an elected leadership. Managing the transition will be difficult, and there will be many challenges ahead, but preliminary results show that Libyans are eager to make a good start.

n Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and
political commentator based in Amman.
This article is exclusive to Arab News.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view