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A Year After Gadhafi, Can Libya Tame Militias?

Author: Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative; Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program
October 22, 2012


Editor's note: Isobel Coleman is the author of "Paradise Beneath Her Feet" and a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

(CNN) -- A year ago, Libyans celebrated the death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. I wrote then that despite enormous challenges, the country's prospects were actually pretty good. Its small, relatively well-educated population and abundant oil wealth certainly gave it a leg up on neighboring Egypt, which has to make its transition under dire economic circumstances.

Libya's path was never going to be easy, but its trajectory since Gadhafi's death has defied the worst predictions of chaos and civil war.

The Transitional National Council, headed by Mahmoud Jibril, oversaw the first phase of transition. It managed to bring all of Libya's factions to the bargaining table, crafted an electoral law and held successful elections on July 7. Despite security concerns, some 3,700 candidates contested 200 seats with a minimal violence.

Turnout was high among the 1.8 million Libyans who registered to vote in the country's first election since 1965. Bucking the Islamist tide that swept Tunisia and Egypt, Libya's secularists fared well, with the relatively progressive National Forces Alliance winning 39 out of the 80 seats.

There has also been a flowering of civil society in a country that for decades had almost none. Dozens of new organizations focusing on issues such as democracy building, the environment and women's rights have formed in the past year. Some groups played an important role in advocating for a female quota in the electoral law. As a result of that preference -- which required political parties to alternate male and female candidates on their ballots -- women won 33 of the 200 seats.

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