Libyan-Americans are urging President Obama to recognize the Libyan opposition's National Council as the legitimate representative of Libyans. “I don’t know why our government is dragging its feet,” asks Faraj in frustration. “France, Italy and Qatar have recognized the rebels. Why not America?”
Faraj is an electronics engineer in Silicon Valley, California. He came to America as a student from Libya in 1978. After graduation, he couldn’t return home because of threats on his life by Muammar Gadhafi’s security squad. He had been outspoken in denouncing the dictator.
“Libya used to be a peaceful, prosperous country,” said Faraj. “But now it's probably the most backward country in the world.”
As an example, he cites a visit to Libya by Shaikh Zaid of United Arab Emirates in the early ‘70s. While touring a hospital, the Shaikh exclaimed, “I wish we had a hospital like this in the Emirates! We and Saudi Arabia are 20 years behind Libya!”
"Now the fact is Libya is 40 years behind UAE and Saudi Arabia!"
So what explains this descent?
“One word: Gadhafi. He controls all the oil money. In the 40+ years of his rule, Libya earned trillions of oil dollars nut hardly any of it went into building infrastructure or schools or hospitals. Gadhafi distributed wealth to his family, relatives and cronies and created a police state. He put his sons in charge of security. Libyans were forced to accept his dictatorship. Those who didn’t, he killed them or jailed them.”
Faraj described how Gadhafi sent hit squads to Rome, Paris, London, even to the United States, to kill Libyans who opposed him from abroad. “When he took over power in the 1969 coup, Gadhafi made it clear that Libyans must support him if they expected to live. Otherwise, he would kill them or imprison and torture them. No in-between.”
Other Libyan-Americans in the Bay Area agree with Faraj. “Libyans will absolutely not accept either Gadhafi or his sons remaining in Libya,” said Mufta, also an engineer. “They must leave, or they will be captured and put on trial.”
“It’s just a matter of time,” said Yusuf, a student who was born here, grew up in Libya, and returned to the United States a decade ago. “Benghazi is the capital of Free Libya. It’s terrible that people are dying in Misrata, Ajdabiya and other cities but Gadhafi’s days are numbered. He has killed his own people. He has committed crimes against humanity. He will be called to account, God willing.”
Yusuf doesn’t like the "rebel" label. “Rebel has a negative connotation. Those fighting Gadhafi are freedom fighters. They are the pro-democracy force in Libya.”
Faraj has family in Libya. His cousin was among the first killed in February when Gadhafi’s snipers from rooftops began shooting at people as they streamed out of mosques after Friday’s congregational prayers.
What about Gadhafi’s boast that he will not leave Libya and die fighting if it comes to that?
“Gadhafi is a coward,” said Faraj. “When he sees rebels advancing on Tripoli, he will try to flee with his family.”
Many Western analysts and pundits are predicting that if Gadhafi falls, Libya will degenerate into a civil war because of the “tribes with flags” that comprise the country.
Mufta seethes with anger at this analysis. “Yes, Libya has many tribes but it’s not as if they don’t have a national identity. They are united in putting Libya above tribal affiliations. After decades of Gadhafi’s oppression and misrule, it will take time to undo the damage and work out a national agenda but it will happen. Western analysts are wrong and arrogant to think we cannot bring about and sustain democracy on our own.”
The ragtag Libyan rebels have proven to the bravest among Arabs fighting to rid their countries of tyrants. Without training or weapons, they have taken on a regular army. They have suffered heavy casualties from indiscriminate shelling by Gadhafi’s forces (two foreign journalists – Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros - have also been killed) but they are holding their own. They have even driven back Gadhafi’s forces from Misrata in recent fighting.
What can hasten Gadhafi’s downfall?
Faraj and Mufta identify two urgent issues. “First, the United States should immediately recognize the National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Second, give the rebels the heavy weapons they need so it’s a level playing field. They can finish the job themselves.”