By: Don Smith (smithpolitical)
It has been a hectic past few days. We are attempting to arrange the largest music festival in Libya’s history, Rebirth: 17th February Music Festival, in only a few months. We are also showing the film “We Win or We Die” all across Benghazi. I’d like to say many thanks to Tawfik and the International School that he runs for allowing us to show the film there. The overall response to the film, “We Win or We Die”, and the festival, Rebirth: 17th February Music Festival, has been positive. Most people have commented that he film reminds them of the revolutionary spirit that that had just a few months ago and the festival is an excellent way to celebrate Benghazi’s independence.
This brings me to Thursday October 20th. The air is electric with the news of the fall of Sirte and Gaddafi’s demise. The end of 42 years of tyranny has released a tidal wave of emotion. With crowds of people bombarding the streets yesterday, firing off pistols and assault rifles, it was like New Years Eve and the 4thof July rolled into one. With shouts of “Long live Libya” and “Long live America” filled the air as I was continually approached and thanked for the role the US had in the liberating of this country. I have yet to come across any anti-American sentiment since I came here and many Libyan want Americans to feel that Libya is their second home.
The people are ecstatic and the air is filled with hope as Libyans once again own their country and can control its future. However, there is also a deep awareness of the long road ahead of them. Libya as a nation is quite wealthy, but Gaddafi squandered that wealth leaving most of the nation in ruins. Construction has been in frozen for the past ten years leaving half-built buildings sitting in a state of suspended animation and many of the nation’s historical landmarks in complete disrepair. There is trash everywhere because waste management was cancelled once the war began and the water system needs to be revamped so the people can once again have clean drinking water. Very few police are on the streets and government offices have yet to reopen, but the streets are peaceful and these services should resume shortly.
The sectarian violence that has plagued Iraq has made many Libyans resolute to not let their country slide into a civil war. And while there is always some risk of conflict based on ideology, this is fortunately unlikely in Libya for a variety of reasons. Tribalism, while still present in the country, does not contribute to any longstanding conflict within Libyan society, having held much of the country together in the absence of government, and is no more significant than any other form of regionalism in any other country. Religious extremism exits only within a minority of the population and secularism is favored by the majority of Libyans over the establishment of a religious caliphate. This is not to say that Libyans wish to abandon Sharia law, in fact many would argue that it should be the basis of the legal system, but that the laws should be flexible and open to interpretation to allow the government to expand with the people. Another fear is that political opportunism will lead to fracturing of Libyan society because conflict can always be manufactured by those who wish to exploit it for their advantage. Issues can be created and then used to divide a once unified electorate. Already there are those in the West that question the validity of a government created in the East. Nor should any favoritism be used in the division of the country’s assets. Regionalism is important and Libya can easily exist within a federated system that complements this regionalism. One can only hope that the Libyan leadership will put partisanship aside and do what is best for the country.
Many dramatic events will enfold over the next few months as the nation shifts towards democracy and factions form into political parties. Libya’s first free elections will usher in a new era for the country. That and the drafting of a new Libyan constitution are sure to ensure years of peace and prosperity to come. Now is a time for excitement, and rebirth, for while many years of hard work are ahead the Libyan people know that Libya’s future is its own once again, the era of tyranny is over, and a new Libya sees the dawn.