Recently returned from Benghazi, Hafiz reports on rebel fighters, supporters and early stages of the Libyan uprising
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Jihan Hafiz has just returned from Benghazi after covering the story for The Real News Network. And she joins us now in our studio in Washington. Thanks for joining us.
JIHAN HAFIZ: Thanks for having me.
JAY: So who are the rebels? What is the attitude, the political mood towards US and Europe?
HAFIZ: Well, from–my understanding from when I got there wasn’t that positive, but it also wasn’t negative in many ways. So in Egypt, for example [inaudible] sort of a good comparison, people were very anti-American, and it was because the weapons that we were getting shot at said “made in the USA”. And also there are lots of connections that point to–of all the administrations supporting their government. And so that was constant in Egypt. In Libya, however, they based it off of US policy in the region–Afghanistan, Iraq, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, support for dictatorships like the one next door in Egypt or the one next door in Tunisia. And so the Libyan people are well aware of US foreign policy and most times wanted nothing to do with the US government, even if President Obama’s in charge. And they’re very wary about the CIA and concerned that the CIA could be there, and even saying that possibly toward the end of it, as things were getting a little uneasy and Qaddafi’s forces were advancing, some were even skeptical about the journalists, thinking that they were CIA agents or Mossad agents. So they weren’t very supportive and they did not want much involvement, internal involvement, from the United States. However, it got to the point of desperation, where even those who refused any kind of intervention were saying we at least need airstrikes. Every sermon on Friday–and usually every Friday is a day of prayer and it’s a day of reconciliation and everyone to rejuvenate themselves–they’d give the revolution’s message. And every Friday it was: we will not take aid, any kind of military aid or any kind of ground forces here in Libya. And they never said anything about air strikes. But you did hear from the people, as things changed, as the situation got desperate, as, you know, different developments happened, people did change their minds. And I spoke to one man who believed that this was the plan of the United States. He was a shopkeeper next to the courthouse. He said, you know, watch the Americans make the Libyans so desperate they need their help. And so that was another theory that was floating around. But I don’t think that they wanted it to end this way or they wanted to need international help.
JAY: There must be a concern that if they are successful and Gaddafi falls–but if it’s because of NATO-American bombing, what kind of government is that? There must be a concern what legitimacy they’re going to have if you get there based on American or European air power.
HAFIZ: Well, that was part of the concern coming from the general population, that–. Then again, everyone seemed to be on board. So even those who were in Gaddafi’s regime who had defected, I mean, the top officials at least, some people were saying we don’t want them, we’re wary of them, and we need to try them, but in the meantime let’s win this against Gaddafi, and then we can take steps afterwards. And so that’s how many people saw the original government. And, honestly, most people, toward the end, as many people were dying on the front line, as the situation seemed very helpless in many ways, wanted international help. In the beginning–you saw some of the reports I sent–anyone you asked–in fact, in the media center there was a huge sign, “No foreign military intervention”, on the outside. As you’re driving all over Benghazi you see big signs that say the same thing. So they were very straightforward about that. But then, as bodies were being dragged back from Ra’s Lanuf, as they were retreating, as it seemed like they were being defeated, they were in some ways almost begging for help.
JAY: And what was your sense of the National Council, which says or claims to represent Benghazi, but also the whole opposition movement in Libya? We’ve seen some reports, including for example from Nancy Youssef at McClatchy, that people are getting pretty–this is now two, three days ago, and the situation’s changed a little bit as we do the interview, in the sense that some of the rebel forces now, with the air cover from NATO, are starting to advance. At the time, people were getting pretty pessimistic in Benghazi and there were a lot of complaints about the National Council, including, you know, like, the former intelligence chief of Gaddafi winds up with a senior position in the rebel armed forces. And Nancy Youssef quotes someone in Benghazi saying we should have arrested him and put him on trial for what he did to us, not made him one of our leaders.
HAFIZ: That’s the issue right now is that are you willing to just break it up and try them immediately, or are you willing to have this go through with their assistance and then try them afterwards. And so a lot of the people, they–not everyone is very comfortable with the National Council and who’s in the National Council. But they understand that this intelligence minister, for example, who actually contributed to a lot of the military defecting but who had been Gaddafi’s right-hand man, being part of the rebel forces, you know, that was one step forward. But many people are very wary of him and are very bothered by the fact that he’s in charge there. But they also know that if they try him, it could create a situation in Benghazi where you do have a feud between the two sides, and even those who defected might become skeptical about it and turn back on the other side. So they’re trying to maintain this idea of unity, of national unity. And if anyone goes after them, if anyone voices their opinion openly about them being there–most people don’t want them there. And I think afterwards they say, we’re going to have, you know, trials for most of these people who right now are in the government, who are contributing to the process.
JAY: And people must, in terms of the internal debate that takes place (and I would have guessed certainly in the early stages) of whether to support a no-fly zone or not–I’m asking, I guess, was there a big debate, but it sounds like there was. To what extent were people saying the only reason there’s going to be foreign intervention is to gain more foothold for the US and especially France and Italy, Britain, to gain more control of Libya?
HAFIZ: We in Benghazi didn’t–at least the people we spoke to didn’t get much from those questions. We were all in the front lines before we left, so most of our work and most of our field study, or fieldwork, really, came from what was happening on the ground–how many casualties, how they were pushing forward–and no one seemed to say much about the international coalition. Does–you know. And bear in mind, though, we left before the no-fly zone came into place. So people were infuriated by the United States and by the international community for not imposing the no-fly zone weeks ago, whereas if they had, you know, we wouldn’t have been trapped in Ra’s Lanuf as they were bombing a residential area. And that’s what I meant by that shopkeeper who said they’re going to make Libyans so desperate they have to beg for the help. And that’s what happened in the end. They were. They were asking constantly: where’s the help? And in the beginning they weren’t hostile, and they are not still. But they weren’t bothered by the United States and they didn’t see anything negative. But toward the end, before we left, which was before the no-fly zone, people were saying, why are the Americans such cowards? You know, why don’t they impose a no-fly zone? So they were getting a little bothered by it. But for the most part they weren’t thinking about if Gaddafi falls and now that the Americans and the French are helping, what kind of government will form and what kind of control will these foreign powers have in the new government.
JAY: It was just let’s bring down Gaddafi and we’ll figure that out later.
HAFIZ: Exactly. And that’s what happened in Egypt: let’s bring down Mubarak and we’ll figure it out later.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
HAFIZ: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you want to see more reports like those Jihan did in Benghazi, there’s a donate button here, because if you don’t do that, we can’t do this.
End of Transcript
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