Libya has made great progress – the acts of a few don’t change that | Umar Khan

After 42 years of dictatorship, Libya has much to do. But the desecrated graves incident doesn’t mean it’s going backwards

The world was stunned recently by images of Libyan youths in Benghazi desecrating British graves from the second world war. Suddenly the whole nation was being criticised and held responsible for the acts of individuals. There were even some expressions of regret that western countries had helped “extremists” to topple Gaddafi.

Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) has been long criticised for human rights violations – the illegal detention of African workers among many other issues. But the cemetery incident in Benghazi, which many have linked to the burning of the Qur’an in Afghanistan by US forces, has changed perceptions of Libyans in the outside world, despite an apology from the NTC and condemnations of the desecration by Libyans young and old. The undated video of caged black people being forced to eat Gaddafi’s green flag also attracted a strong response from within the country as well as outside.

Human rights are one concern but the proliferation of arms, widespread corruption, undemocratic practices and armed clashes are others that raise a big question mark over the abilities of the transitional council that currently rules the country.

Reports of political problems and internal tiffs between different factions are surfacing every day. Crime, too, is on the rise and one could easily get lost in this twisted news sphere. The level of misinformation in Libya is second to none. You hear several different versions of a “rumour” which have no connection to the reality in any way. The lack of media structure ensures that subsequent clarifications are not read by all and thus there is no way to stop the rumours.

Libya’s first free elections are due in months and there is no clear plan for how to explain them to the general public.

Without a doubt there is a feeling of discontentment in public circles but that doesn’t undermine the progress made by Libya as a country or by Libyans as a society. There is still a long way to go but it is astonishing how much they have achieved in the past six months.

The formation of the national army is the most successful achievement for Libya, especially after being tangled in the control of different brigades for long. The national army is finally stepping up to the task of securing Libya’s borders. It will take a while before it’s fully capable of handling any situation on its own but there are definitely steps in the right direction.

The number of revolutionaries coming under the interior and defence ministries is not phenomenal but it’s happening on a daily basis. So far, tens of thousands have registered with the national army and the national guards.

With the security situation under decent control, the transitional government is working closely with the civil society in organising free and fair elections. The local elections for Misrata council were conducted in a very professional way – a hopeful sign.

Despite the shortcomings in the administrative area of the transitional government, one shouldn’t forget that it is just a transitional government and is not meant to make decisions in most cases. With its limitations as a non-elected government, it deserves credit for not letting things fall apart. The progress in establishing the government’s writ is slow but visible – the takeover of the security of national installations from different brigades by the interior ministry is one shining example.

The way civil society has emerged after 42 years of absence shows the commitment and resolve that Libyans have. It has contributed remarkably during the revolution and after wards by assisting a return to normality. The Libyan revolution took some people by surprise but the resilience and enthusiasm of the people has surprised many more.

One could argue over the speed of developments or the way some things are being sidelined, but no one can deny that there is progress. People often point at the number of problems that arise but never speak about those that are solved. It is normal for a country coming out of a bloody revolution to face problems on its way to democracy after 42 years of dictatorship.

What really matters is not the troubles themselves but the response to them. If you will let small bumps deter you from your aim then you’ll never be able to face the bigger challenges ahead. The only way to be certain of what the future holds is to remain uncertain about it and work hard. The recent surge in political activity and the people’s desire for change can in itself be the most worthy achievement of the revolution.

The progress of the country should not be judged from far away based on conflicting reports, but from the ground. People are working day and night towards a new Libya. There may be frustration and desperation but there is also hope for a better future.

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