Saturday, July 14, 2012

Lift Your Head High, You're a Free Libyan

The title of this post is probably my favorite piece of graffiti around town - إرفع رأسك فوق انت ليبي حر - and it ran through my mind constantly on election day.  How can I describe the excitement of a people who suffered for more than four decades under a capricious regime?  What words can capture the sounds of a nation celebrating something that none had ever expected to see?

Many of you saw my post on Facebook about this - unlike many of my colleagues, who had official election monitoring duties, my main responsibilities on election day was to escort Sen. John McCain to a series of official meetings and visits to polling stations.  McCain is well loved by Libyans, who remember his vocal support for their cause early in the revolution and in his efforts to increase U.S. support to Libya in the transitional phase.  People recognized him wherever we went.  When we'd arrive at a polling station, I could hear people shouting, is that McCain?  Is that John McCain?

We saw women singing while they waited in line to vote, men weeping as they put their ballots into the ballot boxes, and everywhere, people smiling while they held up their ink-stained fingers.  Election workers and voters shared their stories with us.  One poll worker had lost both of her brothers on the day Tripoli was liberated.  Another's father was killed in the 1996 massacre in Abu Salim prison.  Yet another was born in exile to a family that had to flee because of his father's opposition work to the Gadhafi regime.  Another woman looked to be older than independent and even colonial Libya, and indeed she didn't know exactly how old she was.  She had to be carried to her second-floor polling station, but nothing could stop her from casting her vote.

After dinner we walked along the corniche downtown, towards Martyrs' Square, where the residents of Tripoli were celebrating the conclusion their first free elections.  People sang and danced, fireworks were shot off from the walls of the Red Castle, and children waved flags from their parents' arms.  After the sunset call to prayer, mosques broadcast takbirs constantly for hours.

So much emotion a week ago - but where is Libya now?  Well, for the time being, votes are still being tabulated.  Some parties did better than expected, others worse.  Some politicians are using this time to seek out probable coalition partners, basing their expectations on the voting tallies that have been released so far.  No one has - yet - challenged the results that have been released, but the battle of words between party leaders continues, as parties try to convince independents to join this coalition or that.  In other words, Libyan politicians are acting exactly like politicians in any other democracy.

And that's exactly how the Libyan people would have it.


  1. THanks for this post. It's so cool to hear about good things coming from everything that went on. I hope it continues well.

  2. It must be amazing to be there. (Well, except for Eric being in Istanbul.)

  3. Fantastic to read this post. Thanks.