By: Yaroslav Trofimov
Young Libyan revolutionaries in recent weeks posted a blacklist of alleged collaborators with Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime at the law college of the country’s main university.
“Tried to use the media to abort the revolution,” read an accusation against one professor. “Called the rebels ‘rats’ in lectures,” was the charge against another.
Only one of the 13 blacklisted professors and lecturers, criminal-law authority Faiza al Basha, has dared to show up on campus since Tripoli fell to the rebels in late August. She was promptly chased away by an angry mob of protesters.
“She offended the revolution and must stay at home,” says one of the protest organizers, Raef Jalal.
Libya’s interim administration, the National Transitional Council, says that it wants to create an inclusive new Libya, promoting reconciliation rather than score-settling—and giving all Libyans not directly involved in the former regime’s crimes a place under the sun.
This policy runs against the pent-up desire for a wholesale purge of Col. Gadhafi’s erstwhile supporters among many young revolutionaries who battled regime loyalists on the front lines and now are unwilling to compromise.
“It’s hard to convince the youths that they should control themselves, and that they should not behave the way Gadhafi’s people were behaving,” says the university’s new rector, Faisel Krekshoi, an obstetrician who was a key member of the Tripoli underground. “We don’t want to be like him.”
How this tension is resolved is crucial for Libya’s future. Massive purges, such as the ones that occurred in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, could spur discontented, unemployed Libyans to take up arms against the fledgling new regime, sparking an insurgency.
The conflicting approaches are playing out these days at Tripoli University, with Ms. Basha’s fate a key bone of contention.
Home to 120,000 students, the school was a cornerstone of the Libyan system. Col. Gadhafi himself was a frequent visitor, naming it Fateh, or Victory, in honor of his 1969 coup. Some 80% of the teaching staff belonged to the Revolutionary Committees, a network created by Col. Gadhafi to enforce loyalty to the regime, Mr. Krekshoi says.
Students’ academic progress depended on how well they mastered the Green Book, Col. Gadhafi’s rambling recipe for solving the world’s problems. Of some 5,700 teaching staff, more than 1,000 were teaching the Green Book and its ideology full time.
“If you wanted to get anything done, if you had any ambition, you had to put up the appearance of being pro-Gadhafi,” says Hussein Ageli, director of the university’s foreign languages center. Mr. Ageli recently had workers knock down the wall separating his center from the school’s former Green Book studies headquarters, annexing the facility and hanging a map of Europe to cover up a fresco of Col. Gadhafi.
The university’s Green Book studies chief, accused of ordering the hanging of dissident students in 1976, has recently been arrested, as were some professors who carried weapons on campus during this year’s uprising, rounding up and torturing suspected revolutionaries.
Mr. Krekshoi says those staff who were directly involved in killing on Col. Gadhafi’s behalf should be tried for their crimes, and aren’t welcome back. All others, including the Green Book professors, continue to receive their university salaries while the school revamps the curriculum and prepares to restart classes.
There is no evidence that Ms. Basha, an unveiled 43-year-old who anchored a popular show on Libya’s state TV and ran a charity promoting women’s and family rights, engaged in any pro-regime violence.
She says she immediately sided with the Libyan uprising when it started on Feb. 17. As proof, she has posted on her website emails that she says she sent in February to international human-rights groups and the Arab League denouncing Col. Gadhafi’s abuses.
Col. Gadhafi managed to snuff out protests in Tripoli and much of western Libya by April, even as the rebels maintained control over the country’s east. With his rule seeming solid in the capital again at the time, the position of anyone suspected of being a dissident became increasingly precarious.
Ms. Basha says she went to ground in the first two months of the uprising, switching off her cellphone and not coming to work because she knew that the regime would try to co-opt her. Finally, she says, she was contacted in person by Col. Gadhafi’s powerful daughter, Aisha.
“Aisha was saying, ‘why are you not helping your country in its time of crisis?’ ” Ms. Basha recalls. She says she reluctantly agreed to reappear on state TV.
In one such broadcast on Jamahiriya TV, available on YouTube, Ms. Basha seemed self-assured and combative, looking into the camera and wagging her finger. She forcefully urged anti-Gadhafi protesters to go home. She reminded viewers that the Iraqis were regretting the U.S. invasion, and said the Western military intervention in Libya was illegal.
By the standards of Col. Gadhafi’s TV, this was relatively mellow stuff. Some of the more vitriolic regime propagandists, such as pouty anchorwoman Hala Misrati, were tracked down and jailed after Tripoli’s fall, alongside thousands of other suspected Gadhafi loyalists.
But Tripoli University’s young revolutionaries—not all of them actual students, and some of them carrying guns—were in no mood for forgiveness when the Law College’s new dean invited Ms. Basha to a conference last month on how to establish a state of law on the ruins of Col. Gadhafi’s system.
In the university conference hall, Ms. Basha was surrounded by young women and men chanting “The blood of martyrs will not be spilled in vain!” As she tried to reason, she was booed out of the room, leaving to applause and chants of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great.”
“I came because I wanted to engage in a democratic debate,” Ms. Basha says. “But nobody wanted to talk to me.”
The Law College’s dean, Abdelghani Rweimad, said that the students “have exaggerated a bit” in their protest. He added that he still intends to bring Ms. Basha, a respected professional, back into the fold.
A few days after the conference, as Ms. Basha came to a Tripoli hotel to talk to a reporter, she was recognized by the anti-Gadhafi fighters manning the entrance and accused of being a former regime mouthpiece. The fighters confiscated her ID and took her for an interrogation after the interview. She was later released.
A subsequent campus visit to discuss her situation with the rector, Mr. Krekshoi, sparked another student demonstration.
Mr. Krekshoi, who reviewed the pro-revolution emails that Ms. Basha says she sent in February, has appointed a committee to investigate and decide her future in the university. In the meantime, he says, he advised her to stay home, pointing out that the passions need time to abate—especially while war against former regime loyalists still drags on in parts of the country.
“I told her, ‘you’re stupid,’ ” Mr. Krekshoi says. After siding with Col. Gadhafi on TV during a revolution, “you can’t expect to be able to walk here safely.”
Ms. Basha says she was aware her presence might cause unrest, and chose to show up on campus nevertheless. “I know what I did,” she says. “I came because I want to build a state of law for the Libyan people.”
Source: Wall Street Journal