Patience And Humility Hold The Key To Libya's Future, Democratic Party Founder Says
If Libya is to make a successful transition from dictatorship under Muammar Gaddafi to a functioning, perhaps even prosperous, democracy, the thing that it needs above all is not money, weapons or trials - but patience.
So says Ahmed Shebani, the founder of one of the first embryonic political parties in the country, the Democratic Party of Libya.
It is not clear what weight and status Shebani and his party currently hold among potential Libyan voters. Shebani says that his party has "thousands of people supporting us every day", and members of the party have made appearances on both Western and independent Libyan media, but it was not possible for The Huffington Post to independently survey opinion inside the country.
Regardless, Shebani does offer some interesting perspectives on the fragility of Libya's potential for true democracy.
Speaking from London, Shebani told The Huffington Post UK that it's only with the help of the United Nations, individual governments and organisations over a period of years that Libya will find political stability.
"We are not embarrassed and we are not shy to say that we need the technical and the legal support to build democracy," he told the Huffington Post UK. "We do not have the know-how. Even advanced democracies are going through self-adjustment and reform and upgrading."
"The biggest project ahead of us is building democracy," he said. "That's the only way for us to capture our dignity."
Shebani is 42 and originally from Misrata. The son of a former minister who served in the cabinet of Libya's deposed king, he was educated in the UK but eventually returned to Libya to work for opposition groups and as a civil engineer.
After he was quoted speaking out against the Gaddafi regime by the New York Times in a 2007 article, Shebani claims he was "detailed by Gaddafi security services and tortured".
When the uprising against Gaddafi began, Shebani says he feared for his life in the ensuing crackdown and left Libya for London.
From here Shebani formed the Democratic Party of Libya in July. The organisation is currently an online-only 'stub' of what he hopes will grow into a fully-fledged political party. Shebani plans to return to Tripoli, and ultimately compete in elections.
"We are rapidly becoming a force to reckon with in Libya because we communicate clarity of vision to the Libyans at grass roots level," he said. "We believe in liberty, equality and democracy."
Libya will need up to two years before any trustworthy elections can be held, Shebani claims. Even then the country will need the support of the United Nations and other diplomatic figures.
"In the meantime we will get assistance and call on the UN and governments and agencies that are experts in building democracies," he said. "We are ignorant of this political art. And rather than waiting for another 40 years to advance, we wish to have a functioning democracy in four years."
"We have been denied the right to our own politics for 42 years," he added. "We have a huge political vacuum."
Claims by the National Transitional Council that elections could be held within eight months are not only over-optimistic but potentially dangerous, Shebani says. Citing Egypt and Tunisia - where some believe gains by this year's uprisings have been set back by entrenched political figures holding back reform -Shebani says the country needs a wholly new political class, and political education, to make reform stick.
"When they (the NTC) said initially they would have elections in three months it was a joke," he said. "And when they say six months and then eight months it's another joke. Hastily organised elections will only result in those similar to the ones Hosni Mubarak used to hold."
The new government also needs to recognise the role played by women in the Libyan uprising, some of whom were among the very first to demonstrate against the Gaddafi regime.
"In the NTC we don't see any women represented," he said. "We are proud to say that more than 70 percent of our members are Libyan women."
For Libya to avoid falling into civil war or even the hands of Al Qaida, Shebani says, the killing must come to an end.
"We feel that what the NTC is doing is wrong. We will never endorse their ultimatums to the people of Sirte that if you do not surrender to us we will start killing you," he said. "These are Libyans - on both sides, these are Libyans. To shell them and to bomb them is wrong. We need to support the Russians when they say there needs to be a negotiated settlement."
Whether or not Shebani's Democratic Party becomes a major force in Libyan politics, his project's an early indication of how Libyans will soon be making serious decisions about how their new government will be formed and run.
"We will walk to the ballot box and we will derive our political legitimacy from the ballot box," Shebani said. "It has to be for the Libyan people at the grassroots level. They decide. It is their choice."