William & Mary

Libya's message to the world: Freedom triumphs over evil

  • Freedom's call
    Freedom's call  H.E. Mr. Ali Suleiman Aujali (l), Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Libya to the United States of America, addresses a crowd on the William & Mary campus about Libya's transition to democracy. Stephen Hanson (r), vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center for International Studies moderated the discussion.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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For more than four decades and despite numerous attempts to remove him from power, Muammar Gadhafi ruled Libya with a iron fist.

But last February, Libyans authored an epic uprising against Gadhafi. In March, they established a transitional government in Benghazi and, with assistance from a NATO-led coalition, eventually took control of the country. In October, Gadhafi was killed near his hometown of Sirte. His son, Saif al-Islam, was recently captured and awaits trial.

A land that once was overwhelmed with fear is now enjoying -- and dealing with the challenges of -- freedom.

“I never dreamed in my lifetime that Gadhafi would be removed by the Libyan people,” said His Excellency Mr. Ali Suleiman Aujali, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Libya to the United States. “If you had asked me on the 15th of February whether anything was going to happen in Libya, I would have confidently told you no, because for the last 42 years Gadhafi proved that he would not forgive anyone who came forward, let alone walk in the streets.

“I am confident that we will build the Libya we dreamed of.”

Libyan Amb. Ali Suleiman Aujali (l) and Aly AbuzaakoukAujali was speaking Sunday to a standing-room crowd of approximately 250 at the College of William & Mary’s School of Education during a panel discussion on Libya’s transition to democracy. Joining Aujali was Mr. Aly R. Abuzaakouk, executive director of the Libya Forum for Human and Political Development and vice president of the Minaret of Freedom institute, and Ms. Chadia Mansour, Arabic instructor of modern languages and literatures at the College.

The event was co-sponsored by William & Mary and the Libya El Hurra Charity, a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in February 2011, within the first week of the demonstrations in Libya. It provides support to displaced individuals who fled the conflict as well as to impacted communities in Libya and Tunisia.

Moderating the discussion was Stephen Hanson, vice provost for International Affairs and director of the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William & Mary.

Building the country dreamed of by long-suffering Libyans won’t be easy. There is no army. The search is on for the assets Gadhafi has hidden in banks throughout the world. Families who have been devastated by the murder of 6.5 million people must heal.

The interim Transitional National Council, a non-elected body, has been in place since March, but how it will continue to develop – and what it will develop into – remains in question. A constitutional assembly will be elected, but at the moment, there is no procedure for handing over all governing powers.

 “Gadhafi left us with nothing,” Abuzaakouk said, “but that is a blessing because we are starting everything from scratch. We don’t have any burden to carry on our shoulders. There is no bureaucracy now.Instructor of Arabic Chadia Mansour

“We hope that within five years you will see the education, technology, human rights, and democracy flourish in Libya, that Libya will become a beacon of hope for its neighbors.”

Aujali added: “The government has to work very hard to make things happen, to make a great difference between the old regime and the new regime. The Libyans are very desperate, but are very different from February.

With Gadhafi’s son and many other members of his regime in custody, Libya strongly desires the chance to bring them to trial without outside interference.

“We want to show the world that the Libyan justice system can be fair and give them all the amenities they need,” Abuzaakouk said. “The world at large can come watch and observe. We want to give justice for others who never gave us justice. We do not want to act like them because we are not like them. We are people of civility.”

Aujali resigned as the ambassador of Gadhafi's government to the U.S. in February in order to represent the opposition in Washington. The U.S. State Department ordered the Libyan embassy to be closed last March, but in August allowed Aujali to re-open it under the new Libyan flag, and accredited Aujali as the head of the Libyan mission.

Panelist Aly AbuzaakoukMeanwhile, Abuzaakouk, a former college professor who was tortured under the Gadhafi regime, is working to spread democracy from the ground up – and is receiving unprecedented support. When Benghazi was liberated, he went to the Transitional National Council and offered to begin educating Libyans about democracy. He received permission that same day.

Since then, he has organized 12 workshops “from the eastern part of Libya to the western part of Libya.” Each workshop is open to about 30 people – men and women dedicated to and anxious for a new way of living.

“After each workshop, I give a public lecture for each city and area about democracy and the road to democracy,” he said. “It is amazing the number of people who come and the enthusiasm of the people.
“This new spirit of Libya is something I hope can be used to create a national reconciliation. Gadhafi used certain areas to fight other localities; he created animosity among the people of Libya. Among our most challenging issues is how to reconcile with each other. We have to learn from the lessons of the Great Prophet how to forgive – but not forget.”