Successful elections held yesterday in Libya allowed a proud people to demonstrate to the world what they are really made of, and the great democratic hope they have for their country.
After visiting Tripoli last week, I was discouraged to read this report in the New York Times of an attack on the election commission office in Benghazi. It seemed so out of sync with the fresh-faced, eager and orderly people I met, many of them returning after decades of exile. Some passionately expounded on their party platform. Others told of a volunteer group forming to clean up Tripoli a couple of days before the election (with little in the way of public services, the processing of waste had become an issue).
One man told me of his radio show called "Mail to the Minister," wherein citizens could call in with complaints directed towards one or another minister in their interim government. These would then be transcribed at the end of the day and physically mailed to the appropriate minister.
Most tellingly, when two men warmly disagreed about whether the Muslim Brotherhood were fanatics, one shrugged his shoulders, looked at me sidewise, and said, "It's a democracy."
They were exceptionally proud of the recent decision of their Supreme Court to bolster freedom of speech, even for those who remain pro-Gaddafi (a very small minority).
Yet, somehow, none of this has trickled into Western media. Only the occasional, exceptional attack has filtered through. That this is all we hear has created quite an adverse and distorted picture. The reason for this, I have concluded, is in large part due to the not-so-subtle fact underlying the byline of the New York Times article linked above: the reporter is currently living in Cairo. True, someone in Tripoli did contribute, but I wonder if they "contributed" from the isolated cocoon of a secured compound like Palm City, far outside of the city and far removed from Libyan reality.
As I have discussed this problem with new-found friends in Libya, the solution seemed simple: host honest, transparent, and timely elections. Then the outside world, and all of the reporters who would invariably descend on the place to report, would see the great (and orderly) hope of the country.
From first-hand reports within the country, it sounds as if that is exactly what has happened. A young woman named Karima, pictured below, described voting day yesterday in Tripoli to be "very safe, with helicopters and policemen everywhere." Women voted in her area in greater proportions than men. Everyone had a smile on their face.
In fact, she told me, all of Libya is celebrating, with victory parties and singing in Martyr's square, people refusing to wash their fingers from the voting "mark," many flashing victory signs, and general exuberance. For the first time in two generations, Libyans are tasting what I hope and expect is the first of many opportunities to let their collective voice be heard.