x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'Precious day of union' for Libyans and their nation

Expatriate voters who cast ballots in Dubai speak of the overwhelming joy of voting for the first time.

Ousama Abushagur, a Libyan-American  who lives in Abu Dhabi, travelled to Dubai to vote.
Ousama Abushagur, a Libyan-American who lives in Abu Dhabi, travelled to Dubai to vote.

DUBAI // Danya Bashir says the vote in Libya's historic elections was as precious as a marriage vow for her and her compatriots.

"They felt like election day was a wedding - the wedding of Libya," said Ms Bashir, 21, from Tripoli, whose father and brother fought in the revolution.

"If you had ink on your finger people would spray rosewater on you, which is a Libyan tradition, and others were hugging people.

"Everybody is so happy that for the first time they've been able to vote because they suffered so much during the revolution."

She voted at the tent polling booth outside the Libyan consulate in Dubai, along with expatriates from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Like the voters at home, their fingers were marked with indelible ink to show they had taken part.

"It's a very exciting time," said Ousama Abushagur, 32, a Libyan-American who lives in Abu Dhabi. "It's something we've dreamt about our whole lives and it's been great to be able to participate."

Ms Bashir, who is studying public administration and management at the University of Sharjah, described the voting experience as overwhelming.

"For us to have been fighting a couple of months ago and now to be voting in the election and dipping my finger in ink, it felt really, really good," she said.

"When the man was giving me directions on how to vote I was so overwhelmed, I didn't understand what he was saying to me. He had to repeat the directions twice before I understood.

"It was a really, really great experience and I feel liberated."

Ms Bashir said the elections were a turning point, and any challenges the country faced from here could be dealt with. "We got rid of [president Muammar] Qaddafi, which was the big problem for Libya," she said. "Everything else is just a speed bump on the road to a successful future."

Voting took place in Libya on Saturday. It was the country's first free national election for 60 years, and officials said turnout was about 60 per cent.

Votes were cast for a 200-member General National Congress, which will appoint a prime minister and cabinet and will oversee the writing of a constitution.

This will be the first elected government since Qaddafi seized power in 1969.

"The people I've been talking to in Libya over the weekend were all happy to be able to participate and vote," said Mr Abushagur, a telecommunications executive.

"That was something they never thought was going to happen in their lifetime. It was a dream come true for so many of them.

"I think of it as a very significant turning point for Libya. It shows that the people of Libya want to move forward and this is a vote of confidence in the democratic process."

He said he was impressed by the professionalism of the High National Election Committee, which organised the poll, and praised the volunteers who took part.

"It was very well conducted; it was very professionally run," Mr Abushagur said. "I think the volunteers and all the people - the teachers at the schools, all the people who helped - did an amazing job. Also, the people were very orderly.

"I hope to see our country become a symbol of democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, and a symbol of success. I hope we are able to move forward, after a regime that set us back for 40 years, and create a prosperous country."

Ms Bashir added: "The Libyan people are dedicated to making their country a better place, so it's not going to matter who is in power because the people know the government works for them and they want the country to move forward."

csimpson@thenational.ae