Election posters in Libya. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Llywelyn Lehnert of British Council Libya reflects on the recent elections in Libya and what lies ahead for the country and for our work there.
Tripoli has always been a visually interesting, sometimes arresting place to travel through: revolutionary street art, construction sites, car crashes and the resulting wreckages. One tends to find even the empty spaces leaping out, from the hollow frames where a leader’s portrait once hung to rows of rusting flag poles where green flags no longer flutter. Over the last few month we saw something new added to this mix: election posters.
Once campaigning officially began, every available space was taken. A horse, leaping majestically across billboards, was the most distinctive, promoting the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Justice and Construction Party. Most played it safe, opting for portraits of the candidates – male, female, young and old, all with their own Facebook page.
One of the many interesting and engaging things about living in this new, free Libya is the uncanny knack Libyans seem to have of surprising people, of confounding expectations.
And so it was with the elections, the first in almost 50 years. Again, people queued up to vote amidst predictions of violence and corruption at the polls and the election of an extremist, possibly anti-Western government.
Instead, voter turnout was at 63%, and all across the country index fingers remained unwashed long after 7 July. Victory went to a party described as both ‘centrist’ and ‘secular’, the National Forces Alliance, which won 41 of the 80 seats open to party candidates. It now remains to be seen how the 120 independent candidates elected will align themselves.
Much is made of Libya’s potential, often in reference to the large oil and gas reserves within its borders. Of course, equally important to the country’s future is its young people, and there’s a lot of them – 50% of the population here is under the age of 20. Many of our Global Changemakers and Chevening scholars were leading voices during and after the revolution.
Since reopening in October 2011, we have directly worked with 250 young Libyans, and engaged a further 12,000 in our programmes through social media, giving them a chance to connect with their peers in the UK and across the region. Our Paving the Future Youth Forum gave 140 speakers and participants the chance to debate some of the political, economic, social and global issues Libya will face in the future.
We now have the opportunity to work with more young Libyans than ever before, and in recognition of that, our projects are focusing on encouraging young people to debate, promoting the role of women in local and national political processes, and working with the Libyan government to develop vocational skills.
Alongside our activity in English, the arts, and education, we hope this work will continue to support Libya in its time of transition.