Ali Suleiman Aujali is Libya’s ambassador to the United States.
On Saturday, Libyans will elect a national congress that will chart the next step in our nation’s democratic transition. The elections are a historic event for a country where public engagement in politics was forbidden for more than four decades. Enthusiasm for the opportunity to participate in civic affairs can be seen throughout the country. More than 80 percent of eligible voters registered; turnout is expected to be equally high.
At the polls, Libyans will be greeted with an array of choices. More than 3,700 candidates are vying for 200 seats in the General National Congress, the country’s first democratically elected legislature, which will appoint a prime minister. Political organizations were banned under Moammar Gaddafi, but more than 340 political entities have formed to compete in this weekend’s elections.
This is a milestone that many Libyans never thought possible. Not 18 months ago, Gaddafi’s forces threatened to destroy the nascent revolution. His son Seif promised that “rivers of blood” would flow through the streets of Benghazi, the birthplace of the revolution. Given the regime’s 42-yearrecord of brutality, few doubted the seriousness of this threat.
Fortunately, it never came to pass.
Instead, doctors, teachers, mechanics and students — men and women inspired by change occurring in neighboring countries — stood in the way. In the span of eight months, brave Libyans defeated the oppressive regime and started anew.
And in the eight-plus months since the end of hostilities, Libya has made significant progress across multiple sectors. The freedom fighters are being reintegrated into society with opportunities to attend school, train in a trade, start a business or work for the government. Schools uncluttered by the musings of a madman are open for Libya’s youth. Local elections have occurred throughout the country; in Benghazi, a female candidate was the highest vote-getter out of the 400 vying for the local council.
Libya’s economy is rising to new heights. Tripoli’s stock market reopened in March, with new companies listed and more planned. The reopening demonstrates Libya’s aim to diversify its economy and increase opportunities for citizens.
In our efforts to create a new Libya, we need continued support from the United States.
Libyans will never forget America’s leadership and commitment to protect civilians during the revolution. Our bilateral relations have never been stronger. On this foundation, we hope to form partnerships that will enrich both countries.
Libya doesn’t need aid in the traditional sense, as our oil reserves can largely pay for reconstruction and development. Rather, we need technical expertise and assistance.
Support and training in the security sector is an important area where the United States could help. The Libyan government needs assistance reorganizing the army and police as we incorporate into our security forces some of the brave fighters who helped free our nation.
The Obama administration has announced plans to establish enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, these funds promoted foreign investment and best practices in the investment sector in Eastern Europe. They can have an enormous impact on foreign investment in emerging markets at a low cost to the United States. We hope that Washington considers an enterprise fund for Libya, and we would work closely with the U.S. government on its creation.
The Libyan government seeks to continue to expand student exchange programs with the United States. More than 1,700 Libyan students attend U.S. universities. These students return home with a top-notch education, and their experience fosters stronger ties between our countries. To this end, a joint task force on higher education would benefit both countries.
Libya also needs U.S. private-sector expertise as we work to rebuild infrastructure long neglected under the previous regime, bolster capacity in health-care and information technology, and increase farm and oil output. We have already hosted several delegations of U.S. businesses and welcome further interest and partnerships.
Our country appreciates continued U.S. support through our democratic transition. This support remains equally important as we continue to develop a civil society where one never existed.
Regardless of who wins Saturday, these elections will be a resounding victory for a free and democratic Libya. Our people paid a high price to be able to make their voices heard at the ballot box. From the early days of the revolution to the preparations for these elections, Libyans’ commitment to freedom and democracy has only strengthened. While many challenges lie ahead, I am confident that Libya will serve as the model for a stable, economically vibrant democracy in North Africa.