Window Shopping: How a Wedding Gown Frames the Libyan Future

Misurata, Libya

Here is a piece from my recent Libya trip that was posted on the website of the United States Institute of Peace:

In the Field with Colette Rausch

February 15, 2012

USIP’s Colette Rausch recently returned from Libya and reflected on the uprising that began one year ago today.

Nothing illustrates the hope and optimism the Libyan people have for post-Qaddafi Libya better than the image from the bullet-riddled streets of Misurata.

It was on these streets some of the most brutal fighting of the war took place. Hundreds of Misuratans were killed where they sheltered. It was here American photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed covering the war. Multiple dozens of immigrants met a similar fate as artillery rained down upon them as they awaited rescue by sea.

Tripoli Street, Misurata, Libya

But amid such devastation— beyond the checkpoint at the city’s gate crafted from giant storage containers and guarded by anti-aircraft artillery, lies the surest sign of resilience yet. On each side of the freshly troweled mortar and newly applied paint, shops lie in ruin. But here, the exquisite wedding gown beckoning through such devastation behind a sparkling new plate-glass window tells the story of how Libyans envision their future—free of dictatorship.

History teaches us that the road ahead for Libya on its quest for a transparent government that is accountable to its people is likely to be as bumpy as the one out front of the bridal shop. Such sweeping changes take time.

For a society to transition to one based on the rule of law — where no history of it existed under the former regime, will require incredible patience on the part of the Libyan people and the international community as a whole. According to the World Bank’s “World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development,” it can take 15 to 30 years for weak or illegitimate national institutions to become resilient to violence and instability.

After all, Libya, like countries everywhere, is a patchwork of interests, regions, tribes, ethnicities and loyalties that now must embark on finding a common bond and purpose, and create a society for the common good. Building trust where none existed before will require immense courage and resilience among people who have been through such horrific violence and suffering. For every tentative step forward we can expect nearly as many steps backwards, as the new and free country wobbles to its feet.

But like the wedding gown in the storefront window, the promise of a better tomorrow requires commitment to a common destiny and moving forward as one, regardless of the obstacles that lie ahead.


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