Libya’s Democratic Moment

 

Tripoli

Libyan Women Relished Their Right To Vote

Libyans in Tripoli achieved two rare things today. They formed orderly lines, patiently waiting their turn, and they voted for the first time in half a century to choose who governs their country. For some, this democratic moment was almost too much to bear, prompting tears and praise for Allah for bestowing such a gift. From my first filing yesterday for the Daily Beast on Libyans democratic moment.

Hurry Up

And from my second  Daily Beast piece: Delight mounted as the day unfolded, as Libyans began to take in their “democratic moment.” Many expressed sheer pleasure at exercising their right to vote—and also seemed a little amazed. “We never imagined we would ever be doing this,” said Aishe Liab, a social worker. Speaking at a polling station in the district of Fashlun, where lines formed quickly in the morning when the polls opened at 8 a.m., she said she had been up all night unable to sleep.

But delight was also mixed with relief. Libyans had feared these elections would be derailed by widespread bloodletting.

Searching The Voter Lists

Libyans Head To The Polls Amid Federalist Agitation in Benghazi

Tripoli

“Libyans will go to the polls this weekend for the first time in almost a half-century. For many—from young YouTube progressives who advertised the uprising that ousted Moammar Gadhafi to grizzled dissidents who endured years of prison—the election will be the fulfillment of a dream. Or it should be.” My Maclean’s piece published earlier this week.

Libya: Two Competing Realities of Women

Tripoli

Will they be heard?

From article in Newsweek/Daily Beast: “At times there are two competing realities in post-Gaddafi Libya. For most ordinary Libyan women, there’s domestic drudgery and subordination to their men. For the more educated, drawn from higher ranks and involved in newly minted nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there’s hope of change and greater opportunities. The two realities seldom meet…

Another fight will be over changing the judicial code. Currently, there’s no such crime as spousal rape. Activists want to see that changed and want to see the banning of rape victims being prosecuted for adultery or judges coercing rape victims and rapists to marry in order to restore “family honor,” something that condemns a woman to a life of injustice.”

Libya: Back To The Future

UN Envoy Ian Martin: But where are the women?

 

Tripoli

With prayers and a band playing the national anthem the Libyan election commission opened the media center for the July 7 polls. It is being housed in the Tripoli International Convention Center right in the compound of Gaddafi’s favorite hotel in the capital, the luxurious Rixos hotel.

It seems an odd place to have a media center for the first free elections in almost half-a-century. The hotel, close to Muammar Gaddafi’s compound of Bab al-Aziziya, is very much associated for ordinary Libyans with the Gaddafi family. It was here that Saif al-Islam, the despot’s son, gave his more rip-roaring threatening performances during the rebellion.

The Rixos was also where the regime insisted foreign journalists stay and it was here that 30 of them were trapped during the uprising. They were basically locked in and many of them feared they would be used as human shields when the rebels launched their assault on the capital. The reporters and cameramen were prevented from leaving by Gaddafi goons.

So the association for many people is not a happy one. But apparently the commission has decided to ignore that dark past and go in for a spot of re-branding with fine posters celebrating the sacrifice of mothers during the uprising. There is also a stirring poster of women of all ages with the title “Rebelling To Be Heard.”

A pity then that we didn’t hear from any women on the rostrum all evening — just men. We had the election commissioner, the Prime Minister, UN Envoy Ian Martin, etc. But no women.

For that matter there weren’t that many foreign journalists among the great and good and diplomatic corps who came. That may have something to do with the fact that international journalists have been finding it extremely difficult, in some cases impossible, to secure visas. The deputy Italian ambassador told me: “We have had a big problem. The Libyan embassy in Rome just wouldn’t give out visas. We have managed to secure a few but it is still not resolved.”

That is being echoed by journalists and officials in London, Paris, Washington DC, etc. Some things never change. The king is dead, long live the king.

 

Not Quite Getting Democracy

Libya’s Justice and Construction Party, in other words the Muslim Brotherhood, has issued for the July 7 elections eight principles that they believe all Libyans should observe. Many of the principles are inspiring and recognize the importance of diversity, non-violence and the rule of law in building a democracy. All heartening and good stuff!

But there is also talk of forming a national consensus and principle 8 comes close to contradicting itself. It states: “Laying the foundations of freedom and respect for political pluralism in a cultural and social framework of national unity.”

Principle 7 lays it out more clearly. Libyans should always respect “the higher interest of the nation” and subordinate partisan, regional, tribal or individual interests to it. But who defines the higher national interest? Isn’t there a hint here of totalitarianism? One would have more faith in this blending of national interest and pluralism and diversity, if the months leading up to the elections had been marked by political transparency, both when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Transitional Council. But it hasn’t.

Decision-making on the NTC has been markedly opaque. An NTC member from Benghazi told me that the NTC has been controlled all along by a cabal of Muslim Brotherhood members and old Gaddafi figures. There are no votes, no regular NTC-wide meetings and no open, formal debate. Decisions are just announced and most NTC members don’t get a look-in. There are no set procedures. Leads one to wonder if the elections will change anything much.