Austin Bay
Successfully organizing, leading and, at particularly contentious moments, refereeing Libya's fragmented anti-Gadhafi opposition movement in the midst of a revolutionary war was 2011's most underappreciated political miracle.

2011's second-most underappreciated marvel was, in the wake of dictator Moammar Gadhafi's bloody demise, preventing this ad hoc coalition's welter of tribes, regional separatists, urban sophisticates and vengeance-seeking victims of tyranny from turning their rifles on one another. To his historic credit, Mahmoud Jibril, the leader tasked with both of these chaotic and personally dangerous undertakings, pulled off both miracle and marvel, and did so with skill.

Last week, Jibril reaped the rewards of successful wartime leadership as his secular National Forces Alliance (NFA) coalition won Libya's first national elections in roughly five decades, and arguably its first free, fair and legitimate election ever.

There is a lot to unpack in that last sentence. First fair election speaks volumes. Libyans bore Turkish and Italian imperial yokes, suffered King Sayyid Muhammad Idris' autocratic whims and Moammar Gadhafi's pernicious tyranny.

As for "secular political coalition": After witnessing political Islamist election victories in Libya's neighboring Arab Spring states, Tunisia and Egypt, fretful international media foresaw another Islamist victory. The more anxious anticipators warned of Islamist regional hegemony.

Now fret has turned to surprise and praise: a secular political party has triumphed in an Arab Muslim national election.

Indeed, the NFA's win, engineered by Jibril, deserves kudos. Jibril and the NFA are positioned to potentially form a government. The quiet bet, but one now heard in Cairo and Tunis, is that the NFA's liberal and secular leadership is better positioned to concentrate on economic revitalization, if for no other reason than its philosophical and political commitment to the democratic rule of law will attract long-term international investment.

The NFA victory potentially gives Tunisian and Egyptian Islamists political, economic and social competition. That competition is useful for sincere modernizers of any stripe, for all three elected governments must produce political change and economic vitality.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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