Libya: Revolution Turns Against Women Activists

Magdulien Abaida, 25, who worked with rebels to bring down Col. Muammar Qaddafi, has fled Libya because of the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalists. (Google Images)

BBC Africa is reporting that some women have been fleeing Libya post-revolution because of the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalists. Tim Whewell’s article highlights the plight of Magdulien Abaida, 25, who was involved in organizing aid for the rebels fighting against Col. Muammar Qaddafi last year. After the fall of Tripoli which happened in August of 2011, Abaida traveled to Tripoli to lobby for women’s rights and equality to be included in the new constitution, which still has not been written. Since the revolution, which is part of the historic ‘Arab Spring,’ uprisings that took place throughout North Africa, things have changed drastically and not necessarily for the better as it relates to women. Whewell writes:

“Like other activists, she was concerned by what she saw as the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalists.

Some were horrified, for example, when in October 2011 Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the internationally-known face of the revolution and head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC), used his first public speech after the fall of Qaddafi to propose making it easier for men to have more than one wife.

It was a big shock for us. This is not why we made the revolution – not for men to marry four women,” Ms Abaida says. “We wanted more rights, not to destroy the rights of half of the society.”

This summer on a visit to Libya’s second city, Benghazi, the headquarters of last year’s uprising, Ms Abaida was detained twice by members of a powerful independent militia which formed to fight Qaddafi, but which has since failed to disband.

Some of these militias, including the one which seized Ms Abaida, have a strong Islamist orientation.

The women’s conference which Ms Abaida was attending – financed in part by British aid money – was interrupted by armed men. Later, militia members seized her from her hotel room. She was released, but abducted again the next day and held prisoner in a room at the militia base.”

Abaida was abducted again and pistol whipped with militia men accusing her of being a spy for Israel. She fled to Sunderland on England’s North-East Coast because she believed that if she stayed in Libya, she would be abducted and killed. Amnesty International, which supported Abaida’s application for asylum, believes her case highlights the lawlessness in the new Libya, which is overrun with armed militias.

Contrary to Abaida’s account of the situation facing women in Libya, some Libyan women’s rights campaigners, including London-based activist Sara Maziq, from Women 4 Libya, think women are achieving far more now than they ever did under Gaddafi. Whewell reports:

“There are 33 women in congress, there are now two ministers in the Cabinet,” she says. “In a conservative society like Libya, as far as I’m concerned the overall picture is a miracle.”

Read more at BBC Africa.

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