Monday, 24 October 2011

Will Libya follow Tunisia into the light or Egypt into the unknown?

It has been a monumental weekend for the Arab Spring.

Gaddafi's capture in Libya and the fall of Sirte made yesterday's proclamation of National Liberation in Libya feasible and it, as sure as anything, will have sent a stark warning to the likes of Syria's Assad who continue to crack down on internal dissent. It was an extraordinary spectacle to watch in the cradle of the Libyan uprising in Benghazi and whilst there's many difficult obstacles to overcome on the hoped for route to an open and democratic future, Libya don't have to look to far for a fine example of what can be achieved in a short space of time.

Free Elections in Tunisia
With a wonderful stroke of luck, as Libya rejoiced its formal declaration of liberation yesterday, in neighbouring Tunisia a hopeful and thankful population walked in their millions to the polling booths to cast their first vote in an open and fair election.

It shows what can be achieved in a relatively short space of time. For it was in Tunisia that the Arab Spring sparked into life last winter and where President Ben Ali fled on January 14th. Only 9 months later, the structures have been put into place to allow for a safe and fair election - one in which over 100 political parties are competing to elect a 217-member Constituent Assembly which will write a new Constitution and elect an interim-Prime Minister. Because of the system of Proportional Representation that has been used for the election and the plurality of male and female candidates, the result is likely to see the highest ever female Parliamentary representation in the Arab world.

Early reports estimate that 90% of the 4.1m registered voters have taken up their right to choose their elected representatives. There is clearly then a strong appetite in this once autocratic nation to take a democratic lead in deciding who it is that runs its own affairs. This of course it to be celebrated and welcomed most warmly.

An Uncertain Future for Egypt
However, on Libya's far border from Tunisia, we witness more concerning developments.

Barely a month after the flight of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak stood down on February 11th as Egyptian President. He transferred his powers to the Egyptian Armed Forces who immediately dissolved the Egyptian Parliament, suspended the Constitution of Egypt, and promised to lift the nation's thirty-year emergency laws. It further promised to hold free, open elections within the next six months, or by the end of the year at the latest. Protests have however continued through the summer in response to the perceived sluggishness in instituting reforms.

In the same similar timescale, Tunisia have managed to bring about democratic reforms that have not as yet been forthcoming in Egypt.

A Democratic Libya?
So Libya has two ways of looking as it begins the long journey towards instigating its future forms of governance.

With the NTC in charge, the hope very much is that the wind is blowing in the right direction. As I blogged here a few days ago, there are many surmontable obstacles that Libya needs to overcome. One of those is to meet the desires of its people in an orderly fashion. I stated then that the Libyan people needed to remain calm whilst their nation is rebuilt and soon enough, democratic elections will come.

For it is of course far to easy to oversimplify the situation in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. They have all awoken from different styles of autocractic and dictatorial rule but that should not mean that Tunisia's example can not be replicated over the border in Libya.

What fills me with hope is that those Gaddafi-regime weary Libyans, need not look across their eastern border in trepidation at what could be conceived to be the take-over of a nation from one autocratic regime to another. Instead, the civil war weary inhabitants of Sirte, Misrata, Benghazi and Tripoli can instead look across their western borders and witness an example of what can be done in a relatively short space of time.

If the Libyan nation goes to the polls in open and free elections next summer as is envisaged by the NTC, then the transition to an open and plural society should be secured. If however, those same new interim leaders defer and obfuscate to such a degree that we find ourselves still awaiting elections in Libya this time next year, then resentment and hostility will likely manifest itself as it is doing in Egypt at this present time.

The world is watching Libya's every move. Here's hoping that at the same time, Libya is watching Tunisia's every move, and not Egypt's.

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