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May/June 2011, Pages 72-73

Waging Peace

Libyans Residing in U.S. and Canada Ask for Help

altAmbassadors Ali Sulaiman Aujali (l) and Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham. (Staff photo D. Hanley)

The Libyan Outreach Group called for recognition of the Libyan Transitional National Council at a March 11 press conference in the ballroom of the National Press Club in Washington, DC. As the audience waited for Libya's former ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, and Libya's former ambassador to the United States Ali Sulaiman Aujali to return from meetings at the State Department, the Treasury and Congress, reporters and Libyans living in America conversed.

Aly R. Abuzaakouk, executive director of the Libyan Human and Political Forum, said that within five days of posting a petition on the Web site to recognize the Libyan Transitional National Council as the only legitimate governing entity in Libya, more than 1,000 Libyans living in North America had signed. Dr. Naeem A. Gheriany, founding member of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya in the early 1980s, and Dr. Idris Traina, an active member of the Libyan opposition since the 1970s, read the petition in English and Arabic.

Ambassador Aujali resigned on Feb. 22, saying he no longer could represent a government that willfully slaughtered its own people. On Feb. 25, Aujali replaced the green flag of the Qaddafi regime at the Libyan Embassy with the green, black and red of Libya's pre-1969 monarch. Aujali stated that the main priority is the implementation of a no-fly zone. He also called for the recognition of the transitional council, stating that he believes the body, which has coordinated efforts on the ground, should be the one to which the international community talks. Aujali warned that the special police had begun assassinating opposition members in Benghazi, where he is from. He also called for increased humanitarian assistance.

Ambassador Shalgham, who denounced Qaddafi in a powerful speech at the U.N. on Feb. 25, and called for U.N. sanctions after the Libyan leader had ordered troops to fire on protesters, spoke next, noting that the Libyan people have taught us that "freedom is not free." Since the oppression is greater in Libya than in Tunisia or Egypt, he stated, the "operation to cut out the cancer will be more painful and bloody." Shalgham said he feared that Qaddafi could attack Benghazi using chemical weapons, describing him as insane, troubled and disconnected from his people. He suspects that Qaddafi will not flee and may be killed by a member of his internal circle. Qaddafi will be "the last dictator," he predicted, and Libyans will have democracy and freedom. Finally, he reminded the audience of the resilience of Libyans during the war against Italy. "We will never surrender," he concluded.

In response to questions about his ability to work in Washington, Ambassador Aujali said that by March 15, on orders from the State Department, the Libyan Embassy would close, but he was authorized to represent the Transitional National Council and would find new quarters.

During their meetings at the State Department and Treasury, the ambassadors discussed how the U.S. can assist the opposition by transferring Qaddafi's assets, estimated to be more than $30 billion, to the Libyan people.

"Freedom takes minutes," Shalgham noted, "but democracy takes time." It may take decades to build up the necessary democratic institutions, he acknowledged, but there are thousands of thousands of educated people in Libya who can do it.

Abuzaakouk pointed out that following the liberation of some Libyan cities from Qaddafi's control, most have established civilian governing bodies, including judges, lawyers and youths, who are governing the people and providing them with services. He also spoke to concerns raised in the media about a post-Qaddafi Libya, saying there are no tribal divisions and any possibility of civil war would be between the opposition and mercenaries. He also stated that al-Qaeda does not have a strong foothold in Libya.

Ambassador Aujali closed by saying Libyans have two choices: fight or die. They will either die in war or will be killed by Qaddafi.

Delinda C. Hanley