Amid a revolution
For most Laurier students, ongoing news of revolution, humanitarian disaster and brute repression in Libya have been fleeting thoughts amid imminent concerns for final term projects and examinations.
To Mohammed Etleb, a dedicated third-year business student and former resident of Libya, the crisis has been highly personal and distressing.
“What we have in Libya,” he began, “is ordinary citizens, my family, my friends … who are just fed up with 42 years of complete lies and complete dictatorship and oppression. They just want a new direction.”
On Feb. 17, the oppressed citizens of Libya rose up against their dictatorial leader of more than 40 years, Moammar Gadhafi.
Etleb explained, “after what we’ve seen in Egypt and Tunisia, we’re saying there is another way of doing this.”
However, Gadhafi has thus far been unwilling to make any concessions to opposition groups. Protest has been met with utmost force, leading to a rapidly degrading humanitarian crisis for his own people.
Opposition forces have been wrangling with Gadhafi for weeks. Territory has been gained and lost by each side’s forces, with Gadhafi’s power centralized in the capital, Tripoli.
Etled spent the first five years of his life just south of this now explosive area, in Gehyran. He developed additional connections when he spent his entire grade 11 year in Libya. After the initial uprisings in mid February, Etleb and his family were deeply affected by the government’s initial decision to cut off access to telephone and internet services. In the early days of opposition, he said, “me and my family would frantically sit at home and try to get a hold of anybody.” So far, their friends and family have been safe.
In spite of reopened lines of communication, Etleb claims that keeping informed has still been difficult, both in Libya and abroad. Censorship and monitoring of phones has been used as a fear tactic to prevent citizens from gathering support, while state television broadcasts pure Gadhafi propaganda.
“Even if you get a hold of family members at home, they’re really hesitant to say what’s happening,” he commented. “They know [the government] is listening.”
Etleb has turned this frustration and helplessness into proactive initiatives on Canadian soil in order to raise awareness and gather support for the Libyan opposition movement.
He has both participated in and helped to organize protests, as well as created a fundraising campaign for aid through the organization UNICEF with several other students from the University of Waterloo.
Additionally, a protest sign created by Etleb, featuring a picture of Gadhafi with a shoe placed over his face, has gained recognition online as one of the best of its kind.
However, activism by the Canadian Libyan community may take on a different perspective in light of recent developments in the international involvement in the crisis.
The implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya, an idea which had been gaining support as conflict worsened, was authorized by the United Nations last Thursday. This was intended to prohibit Gadhafi from utilizing his air force capabilities in further violence against Libyan civilians. This initiative was highly anticipated by many members of the Libyan community, including Etleb, who said that the further support of the mandate with more aggressive actions came as “a sigh of relief.”
The no-fly zone has been accompanied by strategic bombing by Allied forces, notably through large military contributions from the United States, Britain and France. Despite the desire for control of opposition to lie within the grasp of Libyans, Etleb noted that as the situation becomes increasingly intense, “we are realizing that it’s getting more difficult. It’s really David versus Goliath.”
Dependent on whether this increased external intervention will assist the momentum of opposition forces on the ground is the possibility of international troops being deployed to ground level. This controversial issue has varied levels of support worldwide. In addition to its highly valued humanitarian aid, should the situation require it, Etleb foresees this as an area in which Canada could take a larger role. “I think if there’s one country that I want to put troops on the ground … it’s definitely the Canadian troops,” he said. “And they would have the most legitimacy in the eyes of the Libyans as well.”
Although Etleb is unrelentingly positive in his belief that the revolution will be successful, he remains uncertain of the current and future consequences of this grassroots campaign for change. “The question isn’t whether it’s going to be successful or not,” he concluded. “The question is when it will be, and the greater question is how many people need to suffer.”