Libyan Elections Seen As Test Of Uncertain Peace

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Saturday, less than a year after the death of Moammar Gadhafi, Libyans are electing a new parliament. But in the months since the dictator was killed by a mob, life in Libya has been troubled. Host Scott Simon talks with Reuters reporter Hadeel Al-Shalchi, who is in Tripoli.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. And today, less than a year after the death of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, Libyans are electing a new parliament. But in the months since the dictator was killed by a mob in his stronghold of Sirte, life in Libya has been troubled. This election's being seen as a test for an uncertain peace.

Can people who risked their lives for the revolution come to terms with Libyans who are still loyal to the memory of Moammar Gadhafi? Reuters reporter Hadeel Al-Shalchi is in Benghazi this morning and joins us by phone. Thanks very much for being with us.


SIMON: And you've watched Libya a long time, I gather, before and after the revolution. Just how does it feel there in Benghazi today?

AL-SHALCHI: Definitely in Benghazi and Tripoli, there's a feeling like somebody has removed a load off the shoulders of people collectively. Some of the people who were telling me today at the polling stations that they don't need to watch over their shoulders now after the revolution and they're not worried about being whisked away by the government to be punished or to be jailed for no reason.

And today, it's like a day of festivity. People went really early to the polling stations. They dressed their little children in their best clothes and they're handing out sweets at the polling stations, very much like they do at the end at the holy month of Ramadan.

SIMON: Have the millions of people who loved Moammar Gadhafi after a couple of generations, growing up with him, feeling dependent on him for their livelihood, have they been reconciled to the change?

AL-SHALCHI: They're definitely not. There's a thing called the National Reconciliation Program, that's the NTC, the National Transitional Council has promised that it would put at the top of its agenda for this particular reason and so far we haven't seen any major movements forward for it. The culture here is so intertwined and people know each other.

So even if, you know, your cousin twice removed was a Gadhafi loyalist and you weren't, you're still blamed for what your cousin did. And so there's a lot of sensitivity and there are places like, you know, Kufra in the south and places like Bin al-Wahida(ph) in Sirte, which many of these places still fly the green flag. And they definitely are not - probably not voting today.

SIMON: Yeah. There have been anti-election rallies and even some ballot boxes burned, haven't there?

AL-SHALCHI: Definitely in the east. And today, three schools were attacked by boycotter-protesters; carried out ballot boxes, took them to the main square of Benghazi and burned the ballots inside. A lot of gunfire in the air. And once again, the main question is where is the security?

SIMON: Noting all the challenges, Libya obviously sits on a lot of natural resources and a lot of human talent. Is there reason to be optimistic about the future?

AL-SHALCHI: Yeah. Libya is by far one of the most homogenous countries in the region. It has such a small population. It's like six million people, maybe. So much land, so much oil, tourism could just boom in this area because the weather is great, beautiful beaches. So really, they just need to, like, figure out their security. They need to elect people who can really take a strong hold of the weapons proliferation in the country.

But I don't see why, you know, why people can't be optimistic about Libya. I mean, it takes a long time for a revolution to take fruition.

SIMON: Reuters reporter Hadeel al-Shalchi joined us on the phone from Benghazi this morning. Thanks so much for being with us.

AL-SHALCHI: Thank you very much.

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