A Tunisian appeals court on Tuesday approved the extradition of Libya’s former prime minister, making him the first escaped member of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s felled government to be ordered returned home into Libyan custody since the revolution that officially ended last month.
The former prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, was arrested by the Tunisian border police on Sept. 22 and sentenced to six months in a Tunisian prison for entering the country illegally. The sentence was overturned, but the Tunisian authorities held him pending the outcome of an extradition request by Libya’s post-Qaddafi government.
Despite a plea for a postponement by Mr. Mahmoudi’s defense lawyers, the appeals court ordered the extradition, according to TAP, the official Tunisia news agency.
It did not specify precisely when Mr. Mahmoudi would be returned to Libya.
The extradition order came despite concerns by rights groups and foreign governments, including those that aided the former rebels who toppled Colonel Qaddafi, about extrajudicial killings and mistreatment of Qaddafi loyalists by vindictive militia members who had battled them in the eight-month revolution.
Those concerns intensified when Colonel Qaddafi, one of his sons and a former intelligence minister were killed while in the custody of militias that besieged the former leader’s last redoubt of resistance, in his hometown, Surt, on Oct. 20.
Amnesty International had sent a letter to the Tunisian government urging it not to extradite Mr. Mahmoudi. James Lynch, the group’s spokesman for North Africa, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying it feared that Mr. Mahmoudi would “face real risks, serious human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial execution and unfair trial.”
The Transitional National Council, the interim government in Libya, has promised that any former members of Colonel Qaddafi’s government accused of wrongdoing would be tried fairly. The council has also pledged to prosecute the killers of Colonel Qaddafi, although few Libyans expect that they will be arrested or punished.
There has been no word for more than a week on the whereabouts of Colonel Qaddafi’s remaining son-at-large, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, who is believed to be hiding with sympathetic Tuareg tribesmen in Mali or Niger.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, which has issued a warrant for Mr. Qaddafi over suspected abuses of civilians committed during the Libyan revolution, said on Oct. 28 that he had been in indirect contact with Mr. Qaddafi about a possible surrender.
In Libya, statements about adopting Sharia, or Islamic law, raises concerns about the future.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood strategizes about how best to score political gains.
In the West, real fears arise that the Arab Spring will spawn new states more akin to the principles of al Qaeda and Hamas than fledgling democracies.
Political Islam is sure to be a factor as major change sweeps through formerly despotic nations. But exactly how is a question that is up for intense debate.
The idea of political Islam raises eyebrows among secularists, women, minority religions who fear their ways of life will come under serious threat if Islamic parties enforce their will. But some caution against looking at Islam’s role too simplistically — it is, after all, deeply rooted in the region.
“Political Islam is basically Western alarmism,” said Ebrahim Moosa, professor of religion at Duke University.
“It’s lazy analysis to dredge up images of a Khomeini-like prospect for any country,” he said referring to the Iranian revolutionary leader.
So when Libya’s National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil announces that any law contradicting Islamic principles of Sharia are ineffective, it doesn’t mean that Libyans will have hands cut off for stealing or women will be forced to cover up head to toe, Moosa said.
What Jalil’s comments will mean in practice has yet to be determined, said British writer Patrick Seale in Middle East Online. “It needs to be stressed that each country’s experience will be different.”
Libya’s ambassador to the United States, Ali Suleiman Aujali, said Sharia is not necessarily against democracy and equality. And Jalil quickly reassured the international community that Libyans are moderate Muslims.
Moosa said it’s almost impossible to be a leader of a Muslim nation without paying obeisance to Sharia. Saddam Hussein did it in Iraq; Hosni Mubarak did it in Egypt.
“It’s like the president of the United States saying, ‘God bless America,’ ” Moosa said. “It’s your credibility marker that you are a believer, a way to show religious credentials.”
In Tunisia, Rashid Ghannouchi, the founder of the winning Ennahda party, is known to be a philosophical thinker drawn to the Turkish model of governance and faith — an officially secular country ruled by an Islamist party.
Turkey’s constitution limits the public exhibition of religion.
Moosa sees Turkey as a nation that has internalized Islamic ethics. And Tunisia, he said, could do the same, where Islam could play a public role but with filters.
Moosa, who said he knows Ghannouchi fairly well, said the Ennahda leader was alarmed when Khomeini issued a death fatwa against author Salman Rushdie after the publication of “The Satanic Verses” — a novel written by Rushdie that has been decried as blasphemy by some Islamic fundamentalists.
Ennahda is not looking to impose Sharia as it has traditionally been imposed wrote Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin. The party’s leadership contends Sharia is a set of principles open to interpretation, wrote Rubin.
Rubin recently met with Ghannounchi and Hamadi Jebali, Ennahda’s secretary general, and wrote that both men see Sharia as a “body of immutable demands.”
“We know there are some Muslims who do not believe in democracy or freedoms in society,” Jebali told her. “We consider this a wrong interpretation. For us, the authority in Islam is given to the people, and even the legislative power should come from the people.”
The key is for Western nations to exercise patience, said Akbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic studies at American University.
“Certain parties may have a tendency toward Islam. They may succeed or they may not,” he said. “But we have to give them a chance.”
Ahmed said democracy is a Western ideal that is foreign to many Muslim nations. It took the United States centuries to perfect its own brand of democracy. Why then, should Washington expect Tunisia, Libya or Egypt to achieve perfection overnight, Ahmed asked.
Part of the problem, he said, is that after three decades of hostage taking, terror threats and attacks by Islamic groups, Western nations now associate Islam with unsavory actions and the word Islamic has taken on a negative connotation.
“It is important to understand that most Muslims in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya want justice,” Ahmed said. “They want compassion. They want incorruptibility, honesty from their rulers. All of them quote Islamic precedence for these features. In the ideal, Islam promises that these rulers must have these virtues.”
Moosa said he would not be surprised if some time down the line, discordant voices rise up in Tunisia to advocate for what they view as genuine Sharia.
“One hopes saner voices will slap them down,” he said.
But it’s that debate that will make the Arab world’s post-dictatorship nations a real test for whether Sharia can ever be reconciled with democracy.
Islamic law, said Moosa, can be interpreted as a need for providing for the poor, stable governance and implementing a rule of law that is in the best interests of the people.
“What does Sharia mean?” he said. “There has not been an honest conversation on what it can be.”
The answers will help define how the people of the Arab Spring try to rebuild their nations.
On October 20, 2011, former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi was killed in the city of Sirte by rebel forces. To view a variety of news stories related to his death, visit the links below from media outlets around the world:
- An Erratic Leader, Brutal and Defiant to the End, The New York Times
- Violent End to an Era as Gaddafi Dies in Libya, The New York Times
- Gaddafi is gone – now Libya must undo his legacy, The Guardian
- Muammar Gaddafi died from gunshot wound, says postmortem doctor, The Guardian
- Libya’s NTC orders probe into Gaddafi killing, Al-Jazeera
- In Pictures: A look back at Gaddafi’s reign, Al-Jazeera
- Libyans declare their liberation from 42 years of Gaddafi rule, The National (U.A.E.)
- NATO and UN to wind down military intervention in Libya, The National (U.A.E.)
NPR reports: Over the course of Libya’s six-month revolution, activists took thousands of photos to document their struggle against the Gadhafi regime. At the very beginning, on the day activists planned to launch the revolution, there was one photo that stood out — and it captured the imagination of people around the world wishing for the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.
The photo has no official name, but one word can easily summarize it: defiance. It depicts a young woman dressed in a black hijab, her head tilted downward. In her hands she holds a green banner covered in capital letters — a quotation from early 20th-century Libyan freedom fighter Omar Muhktar:
WE WILL NOT SURRENDER
WE WILL WIN OR WE WILL DIE
THIS IS NOT THE END!
YOU WILL FIGHT US + YOU
WILL FIGHT THE GENERATIONS
THAT FOLLOW US UNTIL
LIBYA IS FREE!
The green cloth she holds is no ordinary banner. She has defaced Muammar Gadhafi’s official Libyan flag – an act of defiance that could get her killed if she had been in Libya at that time.
The photograph was taken by Zehra Tajouri, a 19-year-old Libyan whose family fled the country when she was 6 because of her father’s opposition to the Gadhafi government. They bounced around more than half a dozen countries during her childhood because her family was so worried that the Libyan government would go after them. “When the Gadhafi regime is looking for you, every Libyan knows that you run,” she told me in an email interview. “So that’s what my family did.” She’s currently a college student in China.
Tajouri took the photo on Feb. 16, 2011, the day after the first protests broke out in Libya. It also happened to be the first official day of the revolution, as promoted by activists on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.
Her goal, she explained, was to show her friends on Facebook that something big was about to happen in Libya, a country that few of them knew anything about. “I wanted people’s attention,” Tajouri said. “I wanted the statement ‘We will not give up’ etched into their mind.”
“I wanted to make it personal,” she added. “I could have taken the picture without a model, but I realized that with the model, it made the words matter instead of just being random statistics.”
Her sister volunteered to model. Tajouri went about the process of scrawling her rallying cry on the flag. “I wanted to deface the Gadhafi flag,” she explained. “I wanted people to see that it wasn’t a flag — it was a useless piece of cloth and should be treated as such. I wanted people to know that this flag didn’t represent me or anything I respected. … I wanted to erase any meaning this flag held before. I even chose to write the message with a broken eyeliner pencil because in my eyes, it didn’t deserve to look neat.”
“I wanted people to look it at and see how that the flag itself is ugly, but how the words on it were beautiful.”
When the time came to take the picture, she instructed her sister to lower her head. “The reason her head is down is that I was scared,” Tajouri said. “I specifically told her to look down. I was worried that if the revolution didn’t work out, we’d never be able to go back into Libya. None of my sisters would; we all look alike. And even with her head down like that, I was still worried.”
Even after taking the photo, she hesitated before posting it online. “I remember contemplating several times if I even should put it up, because my blog is public,” she said. “However, in the end, it was my sister who convinced me by saying, ‘If the revolution doesn’t work out, would you really even want to go back?’ ”
Eventually she uploaded the photo to Facebook and her blog. “I wasn’t hoping to accomplish anything,” Tajouri continued. “I just wanted to inform my friends and blog readers about what was happening. I grew up knowing about Gadhafi crimes, but the outside world didn’t.”
Within a matter of hours, her photo began to spread across the Internet. People shared it on Facebook; Libyans and non-Libyans alike used it as their Twitter avatars. It was the first photograph of the revolution to go viral.
“The response I got was not what I expected at all,” Tajouri explained. “The next day I received dozens of messages from people all over the world saying how they supported our fight for freedom, and how they didn’t know that this was happening — how they were shocked they hadn’t heard about it before.”
For some people, it seemed, one thing that made the photo so compelling was that it depicted a Libyan woman engaged in a political protest. Throughout Libyan history, Tajouri noted, “women weren’t really known for being the face of revolutions or change or anything of the sort, so when they saw this, it was a sign of determination and bravery: ‘A woman went out and did this; a woman wasn’t afraid of the Gadhafi regime.’ And when you see someone who you’ve always viewed as weaker standing fearless, well I guess that brings out the bravery in some people.”
Despite the fact that her photo was one of the first to capture the heart and soul of the Libyan protest movement, Tajouri doesn’t feel that she played a role in the revolution. “I’m a young woman who took a picture,” she said. “There are people who lost their lives for this revolution, and they remain nameless. I’m honored that people love the picture and saw it as a sign of bravery, but really, what I did was insignificant in my eyes. I wish I could do more.”
Now that Tripoli has fallen and Gadhafi is on the run, Tajouri is contemplating a possible return to her homeland. “I would love to return to Libya; I want to see it,” she said. “I wish I could go now! I want to see how happy it is. … My friends who went to visit now keep telling me about how the pictures are nothing compared to the feeling. I want to experience the feeling.”
This infographic from the Guardian traces the Arab Awakening from December 2010 to the current period, allowing readers to simultaneously consider the political and societal situations of 17 Middle Eastern states. View protests, political moves, regime changes, and international responses on the graph, and see links to news articles from various organizations.
The National (U.A.E.) reports:
The Turkish prime minister will press his country’s ambitions to become a leading political power in the Muslim world this week in trips to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, three arenas in a wave of popular revolts that have reshaped the region.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “Arab Spring tour” comes against a backdrop of escalating tensions with former friend Israel over the killing of nine Turkish activists last year – a standoff that has strengthened support for Ankara in large parts of North Africa and the Middle East.
Arab countries, in the throes of popular uprisings, have watched the economic growth and influence of Turkey’s secular democracy with a mixture of fascination and trepidation.
Under Mr Erdogan’s AKP party, rooted in political Islam, Turkey has boosted political and commercial ties with a region the country ruled under the Ottoman Empire.
Last week, Mr Erdogan threatened to back up his growing diplomatic clout with military action by saying he would dispatch the navy to protect flotillas against Israeli patrols – an announcement analysts said could also alarm Arab powers.
The Arab revolts have forced Turkey to rethink its foreign policy, particularly in Syria, where former the country’s former ally, President Bashar Al Assad, has defied Ankara’s calls to end a bloody crackdown on protesters, and in Libya, where Turkey had billion-dollar investments before Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was forced out of power.
Besides seeking closer economic and military ties with the new rulers of regional heavyweight Egypt and oil-rich Libya, analysts say Erdogan will use his trip, which begins today in Egypt, to cast himself as the champion of the Muslim world.
Mr Erdogan is expected to give a speech today at Cairo University, where his aides say he will set out Turkey’s vision for the region.
“With the resounding victory of the elections in June, Mr Erdogan has complete control at home and now he wants to assert himself as the leader in the Muslim world and the Middle East,” said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based security analyst.
Mr Erdogan’s visit to Egypt, the first by a Turkish leader in 15 years, will be closely watched by Israel and by the United States, which has seen with alarm the deterioration of ties between Turkey and Israel and between Israel and Egypt.
Israel’s peace deal with Cairo has come under increasing pressure since the fall of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Israel would regard with suspicion signs of closer alliance between Egypt and Turkey at a time Ankara has taken a more confrontational attitude towards Israel.
Mr Erdogan will meet the head of Egypt’s ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the prime minister, Essam Sharaf, and representatives of the pro-democracy movement that ousted Mr Mubarak.
Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies said: “Turkey is using the Arab-Israeli conflict and the recent rising tension in the Arab region against Israel to publicise itself.
“All its moves against Israel are only meant to promote itself as a political power in the Arab region and spread its influence on the new generation of the Arab youth who are longing for change and power.”
Ankara has already downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel and halted defence trade following Israel’s confirmation last week that it would not apologise for the 2010 assault on a Turkish boat challenging its Gaza blockade in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
But Ankara is likely to stop short of doing anything to alienate Washington, said Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at Chatham House.
“At the end of the day, Turkey sided with Washington on its key policies in the region – hosting Nato’s radar system, condemning Assad and distancing itself from Iran,” Mr Hakura said. “Americans can live with Turkey’s emotional outbursts unless, of course, they translate into a naval confrontation but I don’t think that will happen.”
Mr Erdogan would be the first head of government to visit Libya since rebels fighting to end Col Qaddafi’s 42-year-old rule entered Tripoli.
Turkey, hesitant at first to dump its one-time friend Col Qaddafi and to back Nato operations, is taking a lead role in efforts to rebuild Libya, eyeing billion-dollar deals.