Libya's Make-or-Break Point
By Robin Wright
I’m not convinced anyone will read this blogpost–Libya is that forgotten.
Yet the North African nation is at a make-or-break point. With its oil riches and small population, Libya is the only Arab country in transition that can afford to reconstruct politically and physically from the turmoil of 2011, when an eight-month uprising ousted longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Instead, Libya is facing implosion. The tragedy of a nation was illustrated Wednesday in twin events: the assassination of a dedicated human rights activist and the apathetic election for a new government.
Salwa Bugaighis was a major player in creating a new Libya. A lawyer and a feisty woman of imaginative courage, she had dared to campaign against Gadhafi’s autocratic rule. During the uprising, she was a member of the National Transitional Council formed by dissidents in Benghazi, the epicenter of the revolt. After Gadhafi’s demise, she became deputy head of the national dialogue panel tasked with facilitating reconciliation among Libya’s rival clans, tribes and militias.
Over the past two years, she again dared to speak out, this time against Islamic militants. She was a friend of Chris Stevens, the slain U.S. ambassador, and after his murder in September 2012 she carried a wreath with his picture and a personal note as people in Benghazi gathered to protest his death. But she paid for her bravery.
On Wednesday, masked gunmen broke into her Benghazi home and opened fire, killing her. Her husband is missing, presumed kidnapped. National security adviser Susan Rice, who met with Ms. Bugaighis shortly after Gadhafi’s ouster, said in a statement Thursday: “I was deeply impressed by her courage, leadership and dedication to building a peaceful, democratic Libya where the rights and freedoms of all Libyan women and men are respected and protected.”
Ms. Bugaighis was shot just hours after voting in Libya’s election for a new 200-seat parliament. She was sufficiently proud that she posted pictures of herself on Facebook. The United Nations called the election a critical step in Libya’s increasingly bloody transition to democracy.
But most of Libya’s eligible voters opted not to cast ballots. Only about half as many registered to vote than did for Libya’s first democratic election, in 2012; about 630,000 reportedly went to the polls Wednesday. Many Libyans, riven by regional disputes and threatened by militias, appear too disillusioned or too frightened to vote.
Meanwhile, the outside world doesn’t appear all that interested in helping them either.
Robin Wright is a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She is on Twitter: @wrightr.