x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Historic day for Libya decades in the making

As Libya's new interim government takes over today, the prospects for the country seem promising, despite some persistent problems.

Today is a big day in Libya. "We affirm that August 8, 2012 will be the day that power will be transferred peacefully," the country's National Transitional Council (NTC) declared on Monday. One month after historic voting, Libyans, who knew only authoritarian rule for four decades, are about to govern themselves.

Problems still abound, no matter how momentous the day proves to be. Car bombs and kidnappings have been frequent, some wary tribal groups are holding onto their weapons, the political situation remains a work in progress and the human and economic costs of Libya's civil war are still being tallied.

Still, 10 months after the death of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and 17 months after the struggle against his regime began, Libya seems to be moving briskly forward. Violence has subsided, normal life has resumed for most people, oil pumps are humming and earning revenue and foreign investors are starting to show interest.

What makes all this possible is a measure of political stability, and the promise of more. So it is encouraging that the NTC will today honour its pledge and hand over authority to a new 200-member interim legislative assembly, elected July 7 in voting that was by all accounts satisfactorily free and fair, despite some disruptions. This group is now expected to confirm a prime minister and cabinet, name a president, and select a separate body to write a constitution. If and when that document is confirmed, regular elections will follow.

On paper, this is a smooth transition to democracy, and it does seem to be on course. Rules for the interim assembly elections were set to ensure that no one party dominates; this should encourage the compromises that are the essence of democratic constitutional government.

The NTC deserves considerable credit for all of this. A largely technocratic body began early in the days of insurrection to plan changes like these. Crucially, the group mustered enough unity to win overt energetic direct international support, an accomplishment Syria's fractious opposition has tragically still not matched.

The legacy of 42 years of tyranny, made worse by recalcitrant tribes, regional quarrels and the civil war's residual rancour, has slowed and complicated Libya's rebirth. There are still many hurdles ahead and no assurance of success. But a reasonably smooth and fairly prompt transition to responsive democratic government is certainly not impossible. Libyans can take pride in their progress so far.