2012 historical Election Day was the first since before the rise and fall of the former regime’s four-decade dictatorship. The prediction on the street was that the long-awaited day would be like Libya’s wedding; and like the romantic notion, the celebrations across the country proved to be a nationwide festivity of Libya’s first real union with democracy.

Schools across the country opened shortly after dawn. A total of 1,453 polling stations opened and welcomed voters. Early risers waited anxiously for the 8:00 o’clock bell to announce the launch of Libya first Election day. Most of all, what seemed apparent were people’s contentment with their position in line, and for having claimed their part in the historical event which older generations had long been deprived of.

The elderly were skipped to the front of lines, and it was with their spoken prayers and feminine ululations that Election Day launched. Elder women wearing the traditional farashiya, a traditional white cloth, showed off their dyed fingers. Throughout the day, people referred to the electoral stain as “patriotic henna” because it symbolised the change that has already happened and that cannot easily be washed away.

After participating in the official part of Election Day Libyans took to the streets in celebration. The festivities were a reenactment of the previous October’s liberation day, and the revolution’s first anniversary in February; only it seemed the celebration this time around was magnified by a renewed optimism.

Martyrs Square was the centre of Tripoli’s celebrations. Children played on bouncing moonwalks, ate cotton candy and danced to live music of musical bands known as a noba. A small group of teenage boys pounded on different types of drums including the goblet, creating the music that attracted passersby. The youngest of the band led in song, proving skilled vulgarly and lyrically.

The far ripples of crowd sung along to his original rhymes that highlighted the moment. Occasionally the chants were initiated from within the crowd and then followed along by the band. The language of the rhyming lines was colloquial – and interesting mesh with the classical Libyan drum beat.

Together, the joint effort of the people’s clapping and the band’s drum pounding resulted in the creation of beautiful music. Songs were being made on the spot, helping mark the moment in history.

The performance made for a fascinating correlation of the tradition’s past and present influences of the Libyan culture. For outsiders, aspects of musical culture in Libya’s celebrated moment helped characterise the society.

Like the inspiring survival of poetry in Libyan culture, patriotism has also found itself a pedestal in the new Libya. Libyans of all ages seemed to connect instinctually to their own sense of nationalism that was not felt under the previous torturous regime.

It was this strong sense of patriotism that came as a surprise to many across the world and even to older generations in Libya. No doubt, this is what the rest of the world saw on Libya’s Election Day.

Back in Martyrs Square, the youth led the celebrations. Barriers of societal distinctions in the crowd like gender or age group were broken by the beckoning sound of Libya’s youth, singing and dancing to the beat of their country.

Parents stood at the furthest ripples of the celebrating crowd, enjoying the sight of Libya’s potential in their children’s smiling eyes. It was a day that celebrated country, culture and community.


Previously published in ‘Tripoli Post’ on 16 July 2012

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