Gaddafi’s Libya (and mine): Part Seven

Gaddafi’s Libya (and mine): Part Seven

A great deal of the international opposition to the Gaddafi regime was provoked by his support (both real and alleged) for insurgent groups across the globe, including in Africa. His foreign policy initiatives on the continent were largely disastrous.

At one point Gaddafi strongly supported one side or the other (I forget which) in the conflict between Ethiopia and what was to become the independent state of Eritrea. Then he abruptly switched sides. This meant that the relevant refugee students at the university where I taught were left overnight with no means of support and were classified as enemy nationals.

Gaddafi also made disastrous errors of judgement in his involvement in the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, supporting vicious thugs such as Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe. There was, too, the insane border war with Chad (a former French colony) over a strip of desert called the Aouzou Strip. In this senseless conflict which had all to do with prestige, nothing more, hundreds of Libyan and Chadian troops, many of them conscripts, died.

On the domestic front, Gaddafi had little time for international conventions on the torture and execution of prisoners. These included members of Islamicist organisations for, as I have pointed out before, Gaddafi’s Libya was not an Islamic State.
I remember one incident vividly. During one of my lectures members of the Faculty Revolutionary Committee burst in and demanded that all students leave to witness a public execution. I trailed behind the students to show my solidarity with them and was told by the RevComms: “No, teacher, this is not for you. You stay behind.” I persisted and joined a vast throng of students in the space outside one of the Faculty buildings, which was being renovated and so was covered in scaffolding.

At the top was a platform and on this were men in uniform, plus three prisoners with ropes around their necks, attached to the scaffolding below. A mike was held up to one of the prisoners, who was ordered to recant. He had, mercifully, been drugged senseless and couldn’t say a word. All three were then pushed off the platform and hung. At which point, bless them, dozens of female students started howling in protest. The main word I picked up was the Arabic for “barbarity.”

There was a sequel. A couple of hours later I made my way back to my rooms, passing the university clinic, where I found a colleague, an elderly Egyptian professor, sitting on the steps, crying, and moaning “what must the world think of us Arabs?” He then told me that the military had beaten up the protesting female students. Some of these sought refuge in the clinic; the military followed them, broke up the furniture and beat the students with chair- and table-legs.

On the global stage things took a turn for the worse in 1981, when US military aircraft were involved in a conflict with Libyan planes in the Gulf of Sirte. This led to deepened hostility between Libya and the West, with my own country, the UK, heavily involved.
Prior to the Gulf of Sirte incident, Libyan television news (just one channel, very Green Book-oriented) had its announcer sitting in front of a world map with a space where the USA should have been. Not the subtlest piece of propaganda I’ve ever encountered. Following the 1986 bombing, the UK was also dropped off the map. My students all told me I shouldn’t fret; they knew, really, the UK was still in place.

Time to lighten up for a bit, because I still have to give account of the 1986 bombing – grim stuff, indeed. In the university vacation following a further Sirte incident, which involved the UK, one of the most delightful of my students invited me and a fellow Brit lecturer to visit him at his family home in a village in the Fezzan, Libya’s southern region, which is made up of one of the northernmost stretches of the Sahara. We leapt at the chance.
To be continued

Chris Dunton

Previous Foreign coach for Likuena?
Next Do not muzzle Law Society

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