Building a free Libya

For decades, the possibility of a Libya without Moammar Gaddafi seemed just a dream. But today, Tripoli’s central square is adorned with the three colors of the pro-democracy forces’ flag. The once-omnipresent pictures of Gaddafi are gone. As that regime gasps its last breath, the Libyan people and the National Transitional Council (NTC) are writing the first chapter of a free Libya.

The NTC has been planning this transition for more than six months. Our accomplishments in the midst of the turbulence of war foreshadow what a free Libya can accomplish in the years to come.

Some in the international community question the NTC and what it stands for. The answer lies in our name. We are a “transitional” government responsible for steering the nation from an intense conflict with Gaddafi regime forces, now approaching its end, to the establishment of a democratic government. While leading pro-democracy forces on the battlefield and planning to stabilize those areas where fighting continues, we have worked to meet civilians’ basic needs and created an interim representative body. We are committed to establishing a stable Libya, where all citizens, regardless of background, gender, affiliation or faith can return to their daily lives, be free and have a voice in civic affairs.

Our road map for building democracy and civil society includes the drafting of a constitution by a representative authority, the approval of the constitution by a popular referendum and, then, for the first time in Libya’s history, holding free elections for a representative government.

There is a great deal of work ahead. One of our most important tasks will be preventing further unrest. The order of the day must be justice and not revenge. Libyans will always remember what we fought for and what we sacrificed, but the NTC is committed to the process of forgiving, rebuilding and moving forward.

The NTC has made clear that it condemns any form of reprisal attacks; in the new Libya, the human rights of all citizens must be respected. We recognize the importance of making sure every Libyan has a stake in the creation of a democratic nation.

The NTC could not have achieved its military successes without the help of NATO and the countries that rushed to its aid. We now call on those same countries, and the many others that have since recognized the NTC, to assist with rebuilding. As with the military campaign, the NTC does not need a significant international presence on the ground, but Libya does need international support.

Such support should include assistance in the form of technical experts to help with our transition to democracy, organizing free elections, building democratic institutions and restarting the economy; support for the NTC to be seated as the government of Libya when the U.N. General Assembly meets this month; and accreditation by the World Bank and technical assistance from both the bank and the International Monetary Fund. (The IMF’s recognition over the weekend was a good step.)

Libya will need substantial funds to rebuild, but it is not looking for handouts. Billions of dollars the Gaddafi regime invested around the world have been frozen — some $35 billion by the United States alone. This is the Libyan people’s money. Washington recently unfroze $1.5 billion for humanitarian needs. Britain and France have unfrozen similar amounts. This is a good start, but it’s just a start. The international community should work with the NTC to unfreeze more of these funds and transfer them in a responsible, transparent manner to the NTC so that the council can address Libya’s pressing needs and begin rebuilding. The NTC also calls on the international community to help it track down funds still hidden by Gaddafi.

In February, the youth of Libya rose up. They were the driving force in making this beginning possible, and Libyans everywhere are thankful for their incredible bravery and sacrifice. We are rebuilding Libya for them and for many future generations. We are asking them to participate in all aspects of civic affairs and government.

Building a free and democratic Libya will be hard work. But if we move forward with the same courage and selflessness of the people who took to the streets on Feb. 17, I am confident we will prevail.

By Ali Suleiman Aujali, Libya’s ambassador to the United States. He was previously the official representative of National Transitional Council to the United States.

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