I had begun to despair of Libya and her people, when the elections came to restore some of my confidence in the Libyans. I have perhaps been unfair to the Libyans, as I perceived that Muammar Qaddafi had left them in his image and his example. Indeed, more than 90 percent of the people of this North African nation were born after the coup of 1969, and knew no other leader than the Brother Colonel.
It doesn’t matter that that the election results have seen the liberals win and the Islamist parties defeated. What matters is that free and fair elections have been held, despite some incidents of violence, and that the Libyans have managed to vote for the candidates they want freely - something that is at the heart of any desirable democratic process.
Before the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi, I wanted him to be ousted but never expected it to happen. Thus, when the uprising took place, it was welcome news to me, as it was to All Arabs. However, what happened after that reminded me of the English saying, be careful of what you wish for.
The murder of Qaddafi after he was tortured was a war crime. The victims of his regime ended up perpetrating what they had rebelled against, and in the months that followed, Libya saw an unprecedented deterioration in the security situation.
Militias arrested people on suspicion, torturing and killing them. Meanwhile, international organizations such as Doctors without Borders, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch published horrific details on the torture, murder and rape taking place. There was even footage of these acts, and I saw one video of a man being electrocuted but could not finish watching it.
The rebels occupied schools, halls, and stadiums, turning them into detention camps. For a while, the National Transitional Council (NTC) seemed helpless, with no police and no known leadership, or independent judiciary in place. Things got so bad, that the NTC paid wages to about 250,000 people who had taken part in the revolution, when the correct number could not have exceeded 25,000 people.
Libya was divided amongst the militias, which I read number around 500. To this day, the gangs of Misurata control a 450 km-long stretch. Meanwhile, the eastern part of the country is demanding federalism, or possibly secession under this euphemized title, with militias having carved out for themselves areas in the south to rule.
The Libyans, who have not known any elections since the sixties under King Idris, held elections in a manner that even the citizens of democratic states would envy them for. The turnout was great, with a clear enthusiasm by women voters, who outnumbered men two to one in some polling stations.
It seems that the liberal wing led by Mahmoud Jibril, the prime minister of the revolution, and which brings together around 40 different parties, has made great gains in the elections. This was conceded to by Mohamed Hassan Sawan, the chief of the Islamist Justice and Development Party, who acknowledged that the liberals came ahead in the polls.
Nevertheless, I do not believe the situation will be settled until the High National Elections Commissions (HNEC) declares the final results in full. Then the General National Congress will have 200 members, including 80 affiliated with political parties, elected on the basis of electoral lists, and 120 independents.
Preliminary figures that have been released show that the turnout was 63 percent, and in some centers about 90 percent – numbers that have not been seen in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, or indeed Morocco.
On the eve of the elections, Amnesty International published a report entitled “Rule of law or rule of militias?” Well, the answer is definitely the rule of law, so we hope that the next government, which Mahmoud Jibril promised will be a coalition government, will be able to round up weapons from the militias and impose order, a necessary first step that is the sine qua non for achieving anything else.
If there is security, then the rest of the problems will be much easier to solve in Libya than, say, in Egypt. Indeed, the country’s population is small and it has a high income from oil, which is sufficient to repair what Qaddafi and then the revolution have ruined, and with speed.
Another point I raised previously, which I believe is important enough to reiterate today, is that the news about the billions of pounds belonging to the former Egyptian regime and its corrupt figures abroad were greatly exaggerated, or even completely false. Yet, we know that the public budget in Libya was always ten billion dollars less than the country’s oil revenues, sometimes even 20. So I hope that the upcoming Libyan government will focus on recovering these lost billions from Western banks, before this fortune, which belongs to the Libyan people, is stolen.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the London-based al-Hayat on July 12, 2012