By Nelufer Elbadri.
Tripoli, 17 October:
We Libyans are learning that overthrowing the Qaddafi regime was only the first step of the revolution. The abrupt end of such a long dictatorship has introduced a period of dramatic socio-political change.
It is not the rate of the change that is dramatic — in reality the process has been disappointingly slow to us impatient for change — but rather the fact that Libyans finally have the opportunity to ask and answer fundamental questions about concepts never before considered.
Unfortunately, although we now have the freedom to ask these questions, we do not have experience in exercising this freedom. We find it difficult even to agree on what are the questions. We are passionate people and it is easy to get lost in rhetoric and emotion.
From defining democracy to disbanding militias, we feel that our opinions should be heard and we are quick to criticize those responsible within government for implementing decisions. Besides the essential ingredients of passion and expression, which Libya has in spades, genuine revolution requires study, analysis, debate and endurance.
The next big chapter in Libya’s transition involves the constitution, a defining moment that will require a hefty dose of patience. Some people believe it is possible for the constitutional drafting committee to be appointed and to prepare the constitution within the prescribed 90-day timeframe to the satisfaction of all regions of the country.
This won’t work. It isn’t enough time for the public to understand the constitution. We have learnt that the simplest of misunderstandings or misinterpretations can create mass uproar, as it did with the suggested 20% quota for women in the GNC. With the added possibility of a poor turnout at the constitutional referendum, the constitution and all that it will hopefully represent- liberty, justice and human rights protection — could be undermined.
We must also consider that the Libyan people do not take impositions well. Laws, decrees, resolutions and fancy speeches rarely have the desired effect. Libyans increasingly resist the very concept of political hierarchy. After 42 years of contradictory impositions, who can blame them?
A constitution reflects a country’s values, aspirations, and commitments and it outlines the rights of all citizens and provides the rules for governance. Libyans will have greater confidence in a constitution that reflects genuine public consultation and input. A sense of inclusiveness can greatly increase the authority of the constitution and the laws that stem from it. In the end, laws are stronger when they are respected rather than merely obeyed.
Genuine respect for the rule of law rather than fear of consequences from breaking laws will be an important objective of Libya’s political transition. The moral commitment to follow laws flows from the idea that, as individuals, we have a responsibility to the community. What is the constitution but a law that protects and includes the community of an entire nation? Constitution makers, therefore, should focus not just on the content of the constitution, but on the people’s understanding of it. Taking the time for public consultation will be key for Libya’s transition into its democratic process.
There are entire communities in Libya with little or no information about the process of democratic reform, and why it is important. Inclusiveness and participation are imperative to the success of the constitution and the country. This does not mean that constitution makers need to consult with every single Libyan. But it does mean that every Libyan should have the opportunity to participate should she or he choose to, and that a critical mass of stakeholders has a demonstrable role in the drafting process. Public participation can create a sense of ownership and respect for the final document.
Promoting inclusion needs time and planning in order to succeed. If the constitutional committee commits to better planning and genuine public consultation, the quality of the constitution will certainly be enhanced, and the public understanding of the importance of the constitution and its function will be improved.
With the already dynamic and burgeoning civil-society organizations active in Libya, ready placed to develop and implement outreach programs, it would only seem the natural step for the constitutional committee to tap into their resources. Many NGOs and public institutions are already engaging in activities focused on the constitution and once the constitutional committee takes office it should take advantage of these engagements and actively participate and support them to ensure the much needed buy-in of the nation.
It is also just as much the responsibility of the GNC as it is the constitutional committee to ensure inclusivity and participation. The GNC should lead by example, which they have tried to do through televised plenary sessions and numerous interviews. However it needs to be taken a step further, where they shift away the NTC’s tradition of reactive, fire-extinguisher method of outreach to a more analytical, information dissemination process.
In Libya we want to move away from dictatorship and toward democracy. In order to achieve this the most important issue to be identified by all levels of a nation be it government, civil servants, armed forces or the general public is that a constitution is the highest authority, and that no one person, no matter what position they may hold can have immunity from justice. The constitutional timeline needs to be extended to allow for inclusion.
Once the constitutional committee holds its first meeting, the 120-day schedule deadline starts ticking down to referendum. Those four months are not enough to achieve the required buy-in for the constitution. A decision by the GNC to extend the timeline could create a perception that the GNC wants to hold on to power for more time than what is needed, but these concerns can be easily dispersed with proper explanation and an awareness of inclusivity.
The task at hand is not slight. There are many questions to be answered, and as we delve further into the process many more will arise. However, what we tend to forget is that successful change is not just about the end result. It is just as much about the journey towards that result. No-one expects Libya to become some kind of egalitarian utopia, but every time our new government takes decisions it demonstrates that it has still not learnt the value of creating at least the perception of inclusivity.
Now is the ideal time for them to take the necessary action to shake off the perception of ineptitude of governments past, and move forward to a visionary government of practical ideas with institutions to implement.
In the end who will be ultimately responsible for the inclusion process, civil society, international organizations, the constitutional committee? I believe it starts with me; a citizen of Libya that craves a better future for myself and everyone around me. I need to take responsibility and take part by educating myself and as many of those around me, and demand that my voice is heard.
Nelufer Elbadri is a civic activist and Political Advisor with Democracy Reporting International in Libya.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Libya Herald