Nearly two years after NATO’s much-hailed intervention in Libya, observers fear that the country could become a failed state. Libya’s government has struggled to rebuild the country’s war-torn economy and cities. Many foreign donors, wary of a rise in Islamist terrorism, have pulled out. Militias have besieged government ministries to oust officials with ties to the old regime -- a worrying sign of adopting legislation at the point of a gun. In May, a violent clash between demonstrators and militias in Benghazi left over 30 dead, and in late July two powerful suitcase bombs exploded in the city. A headline warned that recent events were a “chronicle of a death foretold.”
Libyans themselves, though, tell a more nuanced story. In a national post-election survey that we conducted last May, Libyans offered their feelings about the country’s future. The results are overwhelmingly positive: 81 percent of Libyans say that they are “optimistic” or “very optimistic,” and only 19 percent describe their feelings as “pessimistic.”
Libyans are not only optimistic about their future but also strongly committed to achieving democracy. Of those surveyed, 83 percent agree with the assertion that “democracy may have its problems, but it is the best form of government.” This is not surprising, as democracy is popular throughout the Middle East. But Libya stands out in that over 80 percent of Libyans characterize their hopes for democracy specifically in terms of human rights, free elections, and political liberties. Tunisians and Egyptians, by contrast, tend to view democracy in terms of economic equality; 70 percent of Egyptians say that democracy’s primary role is to provide citizens with basic necessities or to reduce the gap between rich and poor. Only 12 percent of Libyans equate these economic issues with democracy.
Libyan support for democratic ideals translates into support for the country’s fledgling
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