Until recently, a normal day for Amira in Benghazi usually meant going in the early morning to the market, preparing meals to send off to the "thuwar" (revolutionaries), and spending the afternoon glued to the television screen following the news about the battles in the field. This was the common activity for most Libyans during these past few months but Amira's routine was disturbed late in July and again in October this year.
"For the first time in my life I talked openly about democracy, identity and what freedom means to us," she explains. "For decades we have been deprived of the chance to listen, learn, participate without fear or threats."
As she left the training room where the Forum For Democratic Libya (FDL) had been holding a workshop, another young man followed her. "I realised today how diversity and political disparity can be a source of strength to my Libyan identity," Fathi told me. He had recently started using social media to pass on information about the casualties and deaths at the front lines.
The Benghazi workshops held in July and this month were organised by the FDL in conjunction with Beyond Reform and Development (BRDI), a consultancy group based in Beirut. More than 150 Libyan youth, academics and civil society activists discussed democracy and its challenges, the rights and duties of citizens, and such topics as identity and political diversity. What was extraordinary was the enthusiasm and passion expressed during the discussions. Some typical comments at the end of the sessions:
"We experienced during the day freedom and democracy in expressing ourselves, something we never experienced before."
"That's the first time that I have thought - and shared my thoughts - about these topics."
"I lived today a real experience of democracy for the first time and I can live it again in my family and community."
"It is not fair to have this workshop for only a small group. What we lived today should be provided to every citizen in this country."
Libyans are eager to think and speak freely, to live the democratic experience and to show the world that they are not like the detested Qaddafi and his thugs. They want to regain their pride.
So how to translate these hopes and aspirations to something meaningful and long lasting? This is the challenge that Libya's new leaders will face alongside such other pressing issues as reconciliation, rebuilding the devastated and neglected cities, and dealing with the armed militias.
There are a number of concerns that need to be addressed in the short and medium term.
Firstly, there is the issue of the armed revolutionaries that brought about the downfall of Qaddafi and his regime. There have been many discussions within the NTC and the executive office on how to accommodate the varying interests and demands of these disparate groups.
The developing consensus is that those who want to remain in the military should be offered positions in the new Libyan army, in the security service or with private security companies. They would also be offered generous cash payments and those who have been injured offered medical care in foreign hospitals; special consideration and pensions would be given for the disabled and families of those killed.
This is a fair start. However, more needs to be done for these fighters. Many of them were unemployed before the revolution. They need to see that there is a viable alternative to carrying a weapon. That can best be achieved by offering training and jobs, particularly to the large number of disabled. One way is to ensure that all private firms awarded contracts by the new government are required to offer meaningful employment and training to Libyans. There needs to be an effective programme whereby foreign contractors include a significant number of Libyans in training programmes that directly relate to their employment opportunity.
Secondly, there is the issue of instituting a fair, impartial and independent judiciary. Fortunately Libya has plenty of capable lawyers and judges who can reinvigorate the legal system and implement the necessary reforms to guarantee its effectiveness as an arbiter and institution of last resort. This has to precede any elections.
The sight of the tyrant Qaddafi being dragged and taunted by his captors has caused consternation in western capitals. However, few will mourn and fewer will be surprised. The revolutionaries who found him were from Misurata, a city that suffered some of the most brutal acts imaginable during a long and ruthless siege.
Two wrongs never make a right, but the extra-judicial acts committed by the NTC fighters were insignificant compared with the documented atrocities committed by Qaddafi and his thugs. Can one imagine the months of rows about his trial, crimes and punishment should he have lived? The Qaddafi circus would have continued, tormenting the Libyan people and detracting from nation building and reconciliation. Now we Libyans must face up to a period of national reconciliation where old enemies need to work together.
There needs to be a way to rehabilitate the non-criminal members of the previous regime and incorporate them into the democratic process. No easy task but absolutely necessary. Perhaps something similar to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Northern Ireland's peace process would be helpful.
Thirdly, there is the issue of leadership and governance. The entire executive office has resigned and the head of the NTC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has also stated that he will resign. An unlikely leader, Mr Jalil has many characteristics that genuinely endear him to most Libyans. He is a respected judge with a history of standing up for the rights of the oppressed even when serving under the previous regime. An impeccably modest, honest and religious man, he commands wide respect even though some people question his leadership skills. Still, he is a consensus builder and has been able to steer the NTC through the turbulent early days of the revolution.
However, more is now needed. A new generation of leaders is starting to appear on the political scene. Once a new constitution is drafted and confirmed by the Libyan people this new crop of leaders will be able to exercise their political rights in a free democratic process. No one grouping should be allowed to monopolise the drafting of the constitution. The constitution needs to reflect the national consensus and guarantee that the Libyan people can vote politicians in and out of office.
The key is the process and conduct of the constitution drafting and early elections that follow. A process that permits all political views the space to develop and grow will further strengthen democracy's foundations. What needs to be clear is the process and conduct of the democratisation programme.
Fourthly, there is the issue of transparency and accountability. This is crucial in a country with Libya's wealth and lack of an institutional framework. The incoming transitional government needs to be very clear with the Libyan people on the sources and uses of the funds at its disposal. A transparent and fair process for allocating reconstruction and development contracts needs to be put in place. The World Bank and possibly UN agencies can be of help.
The recent destruction wrought on Libya's cities added to the years of neglect by the Qaddafi regime offers vast opportunities for business. The government should ensure that policies and procedures for awarding contract should be agreed, clarified and mandated before any serious reconstruction work starts. As mentioned earlier, this whole process needs to be tied to the employment and training of Libya's youth.
Finally, Libyans need to rid themselves of the apathy and fear that allowed a tyrant to rule us for more than four decades. We need to instil and continually advocate a culture of democracy starting from early schooling to adulthood. Libyans have to accept that a culture of democracy begins in the home and develops as the children grow into adulthood. This is not an easy or quick process and there are no short cuts. An active and dynamic civil society that propagates democratic values, with a free press that holds leaders accountable, is the best protection for Libya's future. A future that will never again allow a Libyan to regret his lost youth.
Amr Ben Halim is a businessman and philanthropist and the son of Mustafa Ben Halim, the prime minister of Libya from 1954 to 1957. He lives in Dubai