CFR’s Isobel Coleman: “I am not betting against Libya at this point.”

Over at the Council on Foreign Relations blog, Isobel Coleman talks about some of the obstacles and challenges overcome as Libya’s first elections are underway, but she remains optimistic:

In addition to contentions over structure of government and uncertainty about the upcoming election, Libya faces a particularly challenging combination of factors that will, at best, make its road to democracy an arduous one. Civil society is weak: the country is awash still in weapons, despite efforts by both the NTC and the international community to secure them, and former rebels remain outside of the state’s control, having all but taken over various towns and parts of cities. Libya’s porous borders exacerbate its tenuous security, and mistrust and score settling are widespread. Some 70,000 people remain displaced internally, too frightened to return to their homes. Corruption is also a real problem, with massive fraud bedeviling a compensation scheme for those who fought Qaddafi. According to a poll conducted in the winter by Oxford University researchers, only 15 percent of Libyans said they wanted some form of democracy in the next year, while 42 percent expressed hope that a new strongman would emerge.

Despite all these challenges, I am not betting against Libya at this point. It has managed to restore oil production almost to pre-war levels, providing significant resources to address citizens’ needs and develop the country’s sorely lacking infrastructure. Its population is young and highly literate. Amazingly, it opened schools in the fall, with more than a million students enrolled by January. Many talented and determined émigrés have returned to help rebuild the country. Some question whether the elections should be postponed given all the uncertainty and the failure to disarm militias. While a few months’ delay might be necessary to work out technical issues (assuring sufficient voter registration, for example), I doubt a delay beyond that will make much of a difference either in disarming the militias or in straightening out Libya’s myriad problems. In fact, a longer delay could exacerbate those problems by leaving them to fester under a weak government lacking in legitimacy.

[READ MORE | CFR BLOG]

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