With much of the United States' and the world's attention trained on Iranian nuclear ambitions, European debt crises, and Newt Gingrich's enormous head, the fate of Libya's nascent democracy has remained largely ignored since the death of Muammar Gaddafi. Within the region, Egypt and Syria have drastically overshadowed developments in Libya, keeping Libya out of the headlines. Yet, despite some serious setbacks, the prospects for real democratic progress in the country of six and half million should not be ignored.
Admittedly, the picture looks bleak at first glance. The militias that were so integral to the ouster of Gaddafi have overstayed their welcome, dividing the state into various "fiefdoms" and fighting amongst each other. Additionally, the new government is facing a $10 billion deficit in 2012 as it tries to pay the salaries of state employees and meet energy needs, and there have been isolated cases of discrimination and violence against Libya's Sufi minority. Not to mention the investigation into the death of Gaddafi that is sure to be arduous and frustrating.
In addition to economic and military woes, political wounds remain open as well. Gaddafi's son and former heir-apparent Saif al-Islam remains in a Libyan prison as officials debate whether to try him in Libya or at the ICC. Libyan citizens are also unsatisfied with the lack of "security, peace and transparency" from the NTC, and recent protests led to the attempted resignation of the Council's vice president, which the NTC later rejected. To complicate matters further, Gaddafi loyalists retook the city of Bani Walid in late January, and Friday protests remain a regular occurrence as the new government wades deeper into its democratic bog.
While those topics have trampled most headlines related to Libya, at least lately, there is much to be optimistic about for Libyans. Oil production is creeping up and is predicted to double in 2012 as petroleum companies worm their way back into the country, an essential element for Libya's economic recovery according to the IMF. Additionally, most of the world has acknowledged the NTC's legitimacy (except for Zimbabwe's wily and bespectacled dictator Robert Mugabe, formerly the Tweedledee to Gaddafi's Tweedledum), which bodes well for interstate trade, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged full support for Libya during its transition. Portions of the deposed tyrant's assets have also been unfrozen to aid the state's currency scarcity, though a great deal of money remains in limbo.
Encouraging political activity is taking root throughout the country as well. Dozens of political parties have popped up, campaign signs dot the streets of Tripoli, and parties are iterating clear platforms ahead of Libya's first legitimate elections in decades, tentatively scheduled to take place in June. The NTC also established a law stipulating that 136 of the 200 seats in the assembly should be from party lists and the other 64 for independents, though the law unfortunately removed the quota for women representatives. And yes, there will strong Islamist presence in the country (though not likely as strong as the presence in Egypt), which is certain to set off alarms bells in foreign policy circles in Washington and abroad.
Considering that Gaddafi has been out of the picture for less than six months, Libya is headed in the right direction, albeit at a snail’s pace. Sure, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives at this point, but democracy is messy endeavor and no one assumed this would be easy. There will undoubtedly be further growing pains; additional human rights violations, unwieldy political institutions, and militia squabbles, none of which should be overlooked. But writing off Libya's foray into democracy is both premature and dangerous, and the world must be patient with Libya in 2012 and beyond.
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