Alumna discusses oppression in Libya
A Linfield graduate shares stories about her travels to her father’s homeland during revolution
Nadia Abraibesh, class of ’10, gave a presentation about her experiences and her role in the ongoing Libyan uprising while she was visiting family in Benghazi, Libya, at a Pizza and Politics event co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the International Programs Office on April 28.
“I thought it was fabulous,” junior JJ Forthun said. “Everyone’s curious about what’s really happening and to have that type of perspective was really interesting — the more personal experience instead of what’s just on the news and what is seen by other people.”
Libya is in turmoil following the protests, which were violently suppressed, began in mid-February against the 42-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi has shown no signs of relinquishing power and NATO forces are currently enforcing a no-fly zone over the country and protecting civilians from Gaddafi’s forces.
Abraibesh shared photos, stories, a short video clip and a rough timeline outlining her connection to the uprising.
Audience members asked a variety of questions about her perspectives on the conflict, including causes, the use of the Internet and about Gaddafi.
Abraibesh, who is half-Libyan but was born and raised in the United States, wanted to visit her father’s home after graduating from Linfield last year.
“I had visited at various times while I was growing up, but not for very long. Trips were pretty short. I didn’t speak Arabic very well, so I couldn’t really communicate with my family,” she said. “I wanted to spend some time in Libya, learn the language and get to know my family, and I ended up working at a European school while I was there.”
During the presentation, Abraibesh talked about Libya under Gaddafi’s rule, how the uprising began and how she became involved.
She said her father left the country in 1977 because of the oppressive government.
“I grew up hearing about Gaddafi’s brutality from my father,” she said.
Abraibesh said she left for Libya last year in September and planned to stay until mid-April, allowing her to experience life under Gaddafi for a while before the protests started. She explained that it was difficult learning to censor herself on a regular basis.
“You can’t say anything about the government,” she said.
She told one story of how her phone line was immediately cut off after she mentioned the uprising in Tunisia while speaking with her mother.
Abraibesh said she and her family did not expect anything like what had happened in Tunisia and Egypt to take place in Libya.
As the situation escalated after Feb. 17, she said she and her family would regularly wake up and fall asleep to the sound of gunfire.
Abraibesh explained her role in helping foreign journalists who she said were treated like celebrities by the Libyan people when they first arrived. She said that although her Arabic was basic, she helped with translations for various journalists, including reporters from The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.
Abraibesh planned to stay in Libya through April, but her family pressured her to return home to safety. She left on March 17 when the opportunity to drive to Cairo arose after her uncle was shot in the foot and could not be treated because of a lack of medical supplies in Benghazi.
She said tanks were outside her house that day and that if the United Nations Security Council Resolution of 1973, which established the no-fly zone, had not been passed, then Benghazi would have been leveled.
Abraibesh said that as an American, Libyan culture was different to her.
“Even though I’m half-Libyan, I’m more American in the sense that I was raised in the United States and with a different culture,” she said. “It’s different than growing up in Libya. I kind of had to adjust to that while I was there.”
However, Abraibesh also explained her growing involvement and devotion as the uprising evolved.
“I felt like I was a Libyan citizen,” she said.
Dawn Nowacki, professor of political science and department chair, said it was helpful to understand Abraibesh’s individual experience in the conflict.
“I thought it was interesting that she could bring in her family and then talk about how they were affected by all these events. It makes it more real, and it makes it more immediate to us,” Nowacki said.
Junior Carol Tran said the presentation reminded her of how international relationships are growing stronger.
“We may be a world apart, but we are neighbors in this world community, and we’re supporting each other,” she said.
Nowacki also mentioned that it was nice to hear about the rest of the world from a student’s perspective.
“I think it’s very cool to have former students or students who go off and experience what’s happening in the world come back and kind of bring us into the globalized world,” she said.
Abraibesh said the visit was an experience she will never forget.
“I loved my time there. [I] loved spending time with my family [and] getting to know the culture, and I felt like I learned a lot while I was there.”
Braden Smith/Managing editor
Braden Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.