Mar 242011
Authors: Jesse Benn

For most CSU students the fighting in Libya is far-removed from the reality of their daily lives –– outside of footage seen on the television –– but for students like Abdul Belgasem and Mahdi Omar, who have family amid the fighting, the conflict is all too real.

The majority of both Belgasem and Omar’s families remain in Libya, many in Benghazi, the rebel capitol where an Interim Governing Council has been set up. One of Omar’s brothers has joined in the fighting, and Belgasem’s family has also been involved.

“They feel that if they don’t go everybody will expect the other person to and eventually nobody will,” Belgasem said.

Omar, who hadn’t heard from his family for nearly a week, finally got a phone call from them during his interview with the Collegian.

“They had to use somebody’s satellite phone, they said everybody is okay,” Omar said after hanging up, clearly relieved.

Despite some confusion in the U.S. media over the opposition’s goals beyond overthrowing Gadhafi, they are clear to Omar.

“We want to see a country that has freedom, justice and democracy,” he said. “All the rebels want this. I know because I am in touch with many of them.”

Help attaining these goals from the U.S. and the United Nations in the form of a no-fly zone is welcome support for both Omar and Belgasem, even if they result in unintended civilian deaths.

“They will be martyrs,” Belgasem said, “If the U.S. accidently kills some people in airstrikes it will still be less than Gadhafi would kill. If they’d let him go to Benghazi who knows how many people –– it would be a bloody river.”

Belgasem also said that Libyans were angry that U.S. airstrikes were not targeting Gadhafi directly.

“So what are you trying to do?” he asked rhetorically.

The U.S. mission in Libya has been unclear and rapidly evolving. But it appears the Obama administration is trying to distinguish between its diplomatic goals –– that include removing Gadhafi –– and its military goals like imposing a no-fly zone.

While Belgasem said he doesn’t think Libyans want to see U.S. troops on the ground, the U.S. could do more to help level the playing field.

“They (the rebels) just need weapons, and they will go attack him (Gadhafi) and take him out,” he said.

Omar personally supports putting U.S. troops on the ground but said that it might not be the best approach.

Although there is no official measure of support among the Libyan populace for the anti-Gadhafi forces, Belgasem and Omar both said it was an overwhelming majority.

“He (Gadhafi) keeps using the word ‘we’ in his speeches to describe the people of Libya, like we are all with him,” Belgasem said. “But we are not with him. We are totally against him. I’d say at least 90 percent of the people are against him.”

Violence in Libya has been more intense and widespread than other Middle Eastern countries, but authoritarian regimes across the region have and continue to use violence against civilians to put protests down.

According to Dr. Gamze Cavdar, a CSU political science professor and expert on Middle East politics, several factors led to a Western military intervention in Libya.

One factor was the “nearly international consensus” to take action.
Others were the support of the Arab League and lessons learned from the revolts in Egypt.

“Secretary Clinton traveled through the region and saw first-hand the cost of being too cautious,” she said.

But the biggest factor, according to Cavdar is that, “Libya’s unrest has huge implications on oil prices.”

“If there’s one thing you can say about the U.S. policy in the region, it’s that it has been consistently inconsistent,” Cavdar said.

Although the violence in Libya has been described by some as a civil war, Belgasem doesn’t believe Libyans will accept a divided country.

“The Libyan people don’t want the country to be split,” he said.

“This will never end until his regime, including his son, all are taken into the International Criminal Court.”

The prospects of Gadhafi actually making it to the ICC if captured seem to be in question though.

“If the people get their hands on him, they’ll hang him,” Belgasem said.

Belgasem and others are holding a rally to show solidarity with the Libyan rebels this Saturday from 3 – 5 p.m. at the intersection of Mulberry Street and College Avenue in Fort Collins.

“Our hearts are still with those people,” Belgasem said. “We’re staying at home, Facebooking, tweeting, trying to get the message out.”

Staff writer Jesse Benn can be reached at

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