Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Topic Debate: Libya’s Historic Elections

Background: In another historic election since the Arab Spring swept across the region, a reported 65% of eligible Libyan voters participated in the country’s first nationwide election in over 40 years. Observers generally viewed the elections as a success: there was substantially less-than-expected violence; and polling was “well-conducted and transparent,” according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, among others.

To provide a brief background, these elections come just under a year and a half after the regional unrest spread to two major Libyan cities. Since then, the demonstrations engulfed the country, there was a period of what was classified as a civil war with a reported 15,000 deaths, NATO and additional states enforced a No-Fly Zone, and Muammar Gaddafi was killed in October 2011.

Beyond the high turnout and the surprising smoothness with which the elections came into fruition, Libya’s experience has proven to be unique from other post-Arab Spring states. The final results confirmed that the commanding victor of the elections was the centrist National Forces Alliance (NFA), “winning more than double the seats of its principle rival, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.” Mahmoud Jibril, the leader of the NFA, is a U.S.-educated political scientist with the thus-far warranted reputation as a “pragmatic moderate.”

The Debate: Commentators, however optimistic, recognize that the recent elections are only the first step in Libya’s democratic process. The following articles are a collection of different reactions to and analysis of this progress and the government’s challenges moving forward:

  • In what The Christian Science Monitor titled “Libya’s Goldilocks Election: ‘Neither Islamist, Nor Liberal,” correspondent John Thorne conveys the sense that former interim Jibril’s National Forces Alliance coalition was able to secure so many seats because he was seen as a comfortable median between two extremes: “shunning both the liberal tag and its opposite in Libya, political Islam, Mr. Jibril has called for partnering with rivals – including a runner-up Islamist party – to form a government.”
  • Noureddine Jebnoun, a faculty member at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, explains her Daily Beast article “Tribal Loyalties Supersede National Identity in Libya Vote,” why, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the Islamists in Libya fared poorly and the role of tribal culture in these elections. According to Jebnoun, the paramount reason for Jibril’s success was “his affiliation with Warfalla tribe, one of the largest tribes in the country with more than one million of a total population of about six million people.”
  • Looking ahead, Fred Abrahams, a special adviser to Human Rights Watch who coordinated the organization’s coverage of the conflict in Libya over the past year, outlines the myriad of daunting political and security-related tasks laid before the new General National Congress. Abrahams especially highlights the need for an accountable and representative leadership that must tow the fine line of building a strong government without slipping back into their historically dictatorial practices.
  • Giorgio Cafiero, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies, argues in Foreign Policy in Focus that three indicators will determine the legitimacy of the newly elected government: “it’s capacity to disarm local militants while ensuring all Libyans’ security, effectively distributing Libya’s petro-wealth, and specifying Islam’s role in governance.”
  • In Foreign Affairs Frederic Wehrey expounds upon one of Libya’s greatest challenges following the recent elections, specifically that posed by the powerful militia’s within the country. Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently returned from Libya.





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