French journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan (1749-1800) once described the French Revolution by saying that, “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.” Look at Libya today and you will find that du Pan could not have been more accurate.
For example, very few people would recognise Abdurrahman Shalgham, Libya’s former UN ambassador, before his appearance at a special meeting of the UN Security Council on 25 February, 2011. He was representing his government, led by the late Muammar Gaddafi. The meeting discussed the turbulence which had erupted in Libya a week before and was seen as part of the vaguely defined “Arab Spring”. Surprisingly, Shalgham switched his loyalty during the meeting and openly joined the rebellion, urging the council to “save Libya” as he put it, instead of defending his government and his leader-friend Gaddafi. It was unprecedented for a representative of a state to speak against its interests at the UN.
The day in New York ended with Shalgham becoming a star and recognised worldwide, and the Security Council adopting Resolution 1970 to impose a series of measures against Libya, including a travel embargo and arms sales freeze. Less than two weeks later it adopted Resolution 1973 which rather vaguely authorised military intervention in the North African country. At the end of the February session one picture sticks in the mind: Abdurrahman Shalgham crying on the shoulder of the then US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice.
Seven years on and the same man who surprised the entire world and astonished his compatriots can hardly visit Libya. The icon of the so called Libyan revolution cannot visit his country openly let alone appear in public in his home town in the southern region. He is lucky to still be alive in exile.
Whenever Libyans mention Shalgham today they only do so in terms of an “agent of foreign powers”. His name is synonymous with “traitor”, and he is not alone in this fate. Almost all of the icons of the false Libyan revolution have ended up being forced into exile, murdered or ignored altogether.
The most famous of these is Mustafa Abdel Jalil who headed the National Transitional Council (NTC), a body representing the NATO-supported rebels in 2011. The former judge was treated as head of state. Today, Abdel Jalil is working as an employee of the Ministry of Justice in the United Arab Emirates unable to go to Libya apart from his home town, Al-Baida, thanks to the protection provided to him by the Libyan army that he once called on NATO to destroy.
In a recent interview, Abdel Jalil admitted that different terrorist organisations, including Al-Qaeda linked the Libyan Islamic Fighting group, were among the leading groups to have fought against the government from March to October during the civil war of 2011. He even confirmed his October 2011 decision, taken while still NTC chairman, to annul the law restricting polygamy. Under Gaddafi, polygamy was not outlawed but it was made extremely difficult.
One famous female icon of the revolution is Iman Al-Obeidi, the young lawyer who shot to fame in early March 2011 simply by walking into the international media centre in a Tripoli hotel during the war, and announcing publically that she had been raped by government soldiers. Today, she is in a prison cell in the American Midwest despite that fact that she was helped as a refugee by the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who played a pivotal role in misleading the American public about the war in Libya. Al-Obeidi is serving a six-year sentence for assault and bad behaviour while under the influence of alcohol. Ironically, alcohol was banned under Gaddafi’s rule. At the end of her sentence she will deported, but where to? It will be interesting if she is sent back to her home town of Benghazi.
Fatima Hamroush is now a Libyan dentist based in Dublin, Ireland; she was not only an enthusiastic supporter of the revolution, but also a Minister of Health in the first government to take power after the fall of Gaddafi. Hamroush avoids visiting Libya for her own safety, and condemns the whole revolution as a western-backed conspiracy to remove the former leader. She even sent good wishes to Gaddafi’s widow, Safia Farkash, who lives in exile in Egypt. Indeed, Hamroush never misses an opportunity to shame the 2011 revolt and condemn its leaders. She has become an even stronger supporter of the late Gaddafi than his most diehard followers.
Another well-known personality of the “Libyan revolution” was Mahmoud Jibril, who served as the first rebel Prime Minister from March 2011 to August 2012. He then founded the National Forces Alliance party and even won the parliamentary elections in 2014. However, he never took power because Islamists rejected the election results and thus ignited the second major war in Libya that year, driving him into exile.
Today, Jibril cannot appear publically anywhere in Libya let alone openly contest elections. He managed to visit the capital, Tripoli, secretly last September, a stark difference to when he was interim Prime Minister travelling the world to drum up support for the rebels.
Jibril divides his time between the UAE and Egypt, and is contemplating a return to politics if and when the next election takes place. He has lost a great deal of credibility because of his inconsistent statements and political positions, although people liked him as a good face of the rebellion. He is soft-spoken with great academic credentials, including a PhD in economics from the US. However, in later months, he became a prolific liar, particularly during TV interviews. He is famous for claiming that the Gaddafi regime almost wiped out Misrata and that regime troops raped hundreds of women in eastern Libya. Of course, none of that is true. Cleverly, though, when he speaks to foreign, non-Arabic media, he is less likely to tell blatant lies.
Unlike the majority of his tribesmen of Warfalla, Mahmoud Abdulaziz Warfalli joined the rebellion early on but failed to rally his tribe behind him. He went on to become a TV talk show host famous for the amount of fake news and outright lies he fed to his audience. Warfalli won a seat as an independent MP in the first parliamentary elections in July 2012 but soon lost credibility. He later revealed that he belongs to the Libyan Brotherhood Movement, a move that killed any hopes of him making a comeback. He is mocked and ridiculed across Libyan social media. As of 2014, he disappeared from public view and appears to have left Libya altogether. Rumour has it that he now lives in Malta. It will be years before he can again walk the streets of Tripoli as a free man.
Other icons with far less luck were killed by the revolution they supported. They include people like Salwa Bugaighis, a lawyer who was killed in June 2014 in Benghazi, a few days after activist Muftah Abuzaid was killed in the same city.
Those mentioned here are only the well-known iconic names devoured by the revolution, but hundreds of young Libyan men and women have been either killed or exiled by the uprising that they supported in the hope of a better Libya. In hindsight, they simply helped Libya to become an almost failed state, wherein crime is rife, security is lacking, people are divided and national institutions are almost non-existent. The revolution certainly has devoured its children.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.