A coalition of parties friendly to the West appears to have beaten Islamist rivals in Libya's first election since the killing last year of Moammar Gadhafi, who denied Libyans the right to go to the ballot box during his 42-year reign. Libyans celebrated in the streets on Sunday, a day after the vote, which President Obama hailed as a "milestone." If official results confirm that secularists will run the incoming parliament, Libya will have broken "an Islamist wave" that swept across neighboring Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco after the Arab Spring uprisings. What does the vote say about Libya's future, or about the wisdom of the bombing campaign by the U.S. and its NATO allies that helped sweep Gadhafi aside? Here, three takes on what the vote means:
1. The intervention was worthwhile
"It's fashionable these days to say that NATO's intervention in Libya left that Arab country no better off," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, but that's not the way Libyans who "joyously voted" in this election see it. The vote wasn't perfect — gunmen stormed a few polling stations in the oil-rich region around Benghazi, and tribal leaders in the south tried to scare people off with threats of sabotage. Yet more than 60 percent of eligible voters "defied the threats." That's progress, and it "would not have been possible without the West's worthy intervention."
2. Islamist separatists could still pose a problem
Don't be fooled by "all the good cheer," says Marc Ginsberg, former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, at The Huffington Post. The fight between secularists and Islamists is far from over. This new national congress was supposed to draft Libya's new constitution, but just before the vote, Benghazi-based Islamist separatists pressured the Transitional National Council to scrap that idea and let a smaller assembly be chosen to write the document. There is "a major struggle" over whether the incoming congress will accept the way its powers were clipped at the last minute. In the meantime, "unruly, violent-prone militias and tribal gunmen" roam freely, threatening peace across the country. The new government will have to act fast to justify voter confidence and keep their nation from being torn apart.
3. National unity doesn't really exist in Libya
The election results don't mean as much as many people seem to think, says Paul R. Pillar at The National Interest. Many people simply voted for the candidates closest to them personally, and transitional government leader Mahmoud Jibril, the founder of the winning coalition, is a member of the Warfalla tribe, Libya's largest. Libya was only independent for 20 years when Gadhafi hijacked it, so it lacks the sense of nationhood and ingrained habits "necessary for Western-style democracy." After the "post-Gadhafi good vibrations" wear off, we'll see what Libyan democracy really looks like, and only then will we be able to determine whether to put last year's NATO intervention "into the win column."