One year ago, a large international NATO-led coalition was critical in helping Libyans free themselves and their country from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's three-decade-long bloody dictatorship. But that victory is not yet secure. Today, international engagement is even more necessary to win sustainable stability in post-conflict Libya. The success of a peaceful, democratic transition in Libya is not only in the interest of Italy and Europe, it is a common good in the interest of the entire international community -- on at least three accounts.
First, only a democratic and stable country can meet the legitimate aspirations of its people, those who fought the revolution and paid the price for freedom with their lives. The international community has both the interest and the moral duty to consolidate those human gains achieved with military intervention in the name of the "responsibility to protect."
Second, a democratic and stable Libya can become a positive agent for regional cooperation and integration. Qaddafi's Libya was a regional trouble maker that spread fear and mistrust among its neighbors in both Africa and the Arab world, but the new Libya has already demonstrated its willingness to reintegrate positively in the region. It normalized relations with most of its neighbors, including Egypt and Tunisia and more recently, Algeria; it participated in the ministerial meeting between the five countries of the Mediterranean's northern shore and the five of the southern shore which was held in Rome last February; and it has positively re-engaged in the Union for the Arab Maghreb.
Third, due to its strategic geographical position, a democratic Libya, closely anchored to international Euro-Atlantic institutions, could become an important partner in the common fight against international terrorism, piracy, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
The fall of the Qaddafi regime was only the first part. The challenges facing Libya today are particularly complex and different from those encountered in the other countries of the Arab Spring. Unlike Egypt, oil-rich Libya does not need financial assistance and is scarcely populated. Unlike Tunisia, it does not have a structured civil society. But Libya is not Lebanon or Iraq either. Unlike the latter, it has a homogeneous population and its internal divisions are along tribal and geographical lines rather than religious and sectarian ones. Last but not least, unlike other countries of the wider region, Libya does not present immediate risks of widespread Islamic radicalism: The overwhelming majority of Libyans are moderate Muslims -- they follow Islamic precepts in the organization of their daily lives, while rejecting the assumptions of state confessionalism.
Libya, in other words, is a special case and should be treated as such. The country today faces two major challenges. First is the establishment of a new functional and democratic government. Libya has never been organized through structured central institutions. Despite its official ideology and rhetoric (Jamahiriya, the "state of the masses"), Libya under Qaddafi was a de facto one-man show. Political parties and state structures were suppressed. Qaddafi even curbed the power and influence of the military, lest it be a threat to his rule. To keep his hold on power secure he relied on his family and a few close associates, who in turn controlled the most powerful tribes and the paramilitary brigades.
So how to build a government in a state that has lacked one for 30 years? Unquestionably, elections are the first step to building democratic, inclusive, and accountable institutions. By the end of June, Libya is going to elect its 200-member National Congress, which, in turn, will have to designate the 60 members of a Constitutional Committee tasked with drafting a new constitution. Since its independence in 1951, Libyans have experienced open elections only once, and that was under the monarchy in 1952. The challenges that await them, therefore, are huge. The preparation for the elections has already spurred widespread participation in the democratic process, which bodes well for the country‘s future. Political parties and candidates are mushrooming: More than 2,000 candidates and 120 new political parties registered to stand for the 200 seats, 120 of which will be allocated to individuals, with the remainder reserved as party seats. Forty-three percent of the registered voters are women, while 43 women are candidates. Elections will not solve all Libya's problems -- but, for the first time, Libya will have an elected government directly accountable to its people and with which the international community will be able to engage.