Just three days after Libyans voted in historic national assembly elections last Saturday, Libyan-American Ali Tarhouni was still sounding joyous.
“It’s a national wedding and everyone came to the party,” says the 60-year-old economist and former University of Washington lecturer.
Mr. Tarhouni went in to exile to the United States in 1973 because his political activism put him at risk in Libya. He eventually settled in Seattle. Like so many Libyans, he wondered whether he would ever see a free Libya in his lifetime and feared returning because he believed he was on Moammar Gadhafi’s hit list.
Last year’s revolution was his cue to return and directly help the rebels. He played a key role in the National Transitional Council that operated as a provisional government during the Libyan uprising against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. He was appointed during the early days as interim oil and finance minister, and served for a brief period as acting prime minister.
After Col. Gadhafi’s downfall Mr. Tarhouni launched a political party, the secular-leaning National Centrist Party, which contested the recent elections. He is a supporter of Mahmoud Jibril, the one-time interim prime minister who now heads a political coalition that stands to make the biggest gains in the national assembly elections.
In a telephone conversation from Libya, Mr. Tarhouni described how he was swept up by Libya’s first free elections in over 40 years. “This year-and-a-half has been a life time of memories. I’m a very happy man. I’ve achieved all of my dreams.”
Mr. Tarhouni was present at key moments in the Libyan revolution: standing on stage in central Tripoli to declare the capital free and standing over the corpse of Moammar Gadhafi on the day the dictator was killed.
Libya’s challenge now, says Mr. Tarhouni, is security. “It’s No. 1, No. 2, No. 3.” A professional army and police force, he says, are a priority to help disarm groups and provide security.
Mr. Tarhouni said he sees as a moderate Muslim country and that recent national assembly elections have checked the influence of the Islamist parties – in part, he says, because Libyans have a “suspicion of outsiders” – a reference to the claim that Islamist parties are being influenced by Islamist groups outside of Libya in Egypt and Qatar.
“[Voters] were looking for home-grown leaders and parties,” says Mr. Tarhouni.