Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Libya’s Transition Continues

by Isobel Coleman
January 24, 2012

NTC Chairman Abdel Jalil talks to protesters in Benghazi on January 21, 2012 (Esam Al Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).


Libya continues down its path of exciting if unsteady transition.  Earlier this month, more than a million children returned to school after a nine month hiatus during the war. One of the first things the National Transitional Council (NTC) did was set up a committee to rid the curriculum of Qaddafi’s “teachings.” Parents across the country expressed hope at the prospect of a better education and brighter future for their kids. Protests, however, continue with some intensity. On Saturday, a group of disgruntled revolutionaries stormed the NTC’s headquarters in Benghazi, demanding compensation for their participation in the fighting to overthrow Qaddafi. They carried away office furniture and computers as the NTC’s chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, holed up inside the building. Six representatives from Benghazi were suspended from the NTC as a result. The protesters also accused the NTC of corruption and nepotism in appointing civil servants. In another worrying development,  reports today allege that NTC loyalists were chased out of Bani Walid, one of the last pro-Qaddafi strongholds to fall during the uprising. With well-armed militias still staking out their turf, the NTC continues to struggle with extending its control over the whole country.

Meanwhile, the NTC is working toward elections in June for a 200-seat national constituent assembly. A few weeks ago it released a draft of the electoral law that will govern those elections and is preparing to release a new version next week. The revised law was supposed to be published on January 22, but was delayed until January 28 to allow more time to review the submitted comments. Coming in the new version is a relaxation of the restriction on members of the NTC from running. Also, the controversial ban on those holding foreign passports from voting or running for office will also be scrapped. On Sunday, the electoral committee announced via Facebook the members of the Electoral High Commission who will oversee the elections. (This committee is different from the committee that drafted the electoral law.) In a positive push for greater transparency, commentators on Facebook requested that the credentials and resumes of the members be posted and demanded to know how they had been chosen. Of the seventeen members of the commission, only two are women.

Indeed, women have not fared so well in the political transition thus far. There are unofficial reports that the latest version of the electoral law will eliminate the 10 percent parliamentary quota for women floated in the draft. An unnamed Western diplomat stated that “after the draft election law was posted on the NTC website… 80 percent of the 14,000 emails received (by the NTC) were against the quota, including women’s rights groups.”  Hmm. As I have written previously, quotas do not guarantee an increase in women’s meaningful participation in the public sphere, but they do accelerate the inclusion of women’s voices into political systems where they are otherwise excluded. One of the main women’s political groups in Libya, W4L, came out against both the removal of quotas and the opaque decision-making process. Sara Maziq, a founder of W4L, argued in a press release that “The drafting team of eight should have included women representatives and the whole process should have been more transparent.” W4L’s press secretary argued that even the “initial 10 percent quota proposed for women was undeniably insulting, when more than half the population are female and participated equally in the revolution.” Some Libyan women on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter said they never took the draft quota seriously – they don’t believe their country is ready for such a move. Others urge women to take to the streets if they really care about this issue. I have a feeling this story isn’t over. Stay tuned – more on this next week.

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