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Friday 19 December  
Salawi Bugaigis
Benghazi, Libya
Benghazi, Libya

Libyan women in the vanguard

Published on : 28 February 2011 - 11:12am | By Mohammed Abdulrahman (Photo: RNW )
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The Attorney General's Office in Benghazi is the centre of the revolution against 42 years of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's rule in Libya. A sit-in here by lawyers and judges was the first serious boost to the uprising led by the country's youth. Salwa Bugaigis, a lawyer in her mid-40s, led that first sit-in.

"We couldn't believe that Benghazi fell into our hands after only four days of protest. The regime is brutal, but our determination was rock solid," says Bugaigis. She is sitting in a modest office, a crucial figure among the 200 Libyans organising and leading the revolution from this four-storey building near the sandy beach of Libya's second biggest city.

She and her colleagues are dealing not only with creating the politics of the revolution, but also the survival of the city. A phone call comes from Zawiya, a town west of Tripoli where 23 demonstrators have been shot dead by Gaddafi's security forces. Salwa Bugaigis has to brief the press about it.

The second phone call comes from the Benghazi port office. A Turkish ship carrying food supplies has just arrived. She sighs with relief and turns to the three uniformed army officers waiting to talk to her. All these are matters with which Bugaigis is quite unfamiliar, but they are only details which will be sorted out soon by qualified specialists, she says. More important is what lies beyond the practicalities, "I can see the new, free prosperous, human rights-respecting Libya."

As a leading female figure and a mother, Bugaigis has her own worries and concerns. "As you can see, ten days with only a few hours of sleep is taking its toll on me. I have seen my three sons of 20, 19 and 17 only once five days ago. They are out there in front of this building among the demonstrators, but they can't come in here to see me. That would jeopardise their own safety."

She has already received many threatening phone calls from, she thinks, Gaddafi's security agents. During the last ten days she has spent each night in a different place for fear of possible attacks. "Of course, I am stressed and worried for my country, my fellow citizens and my sons as well."

The paediatrician who cares for Salwa Bugaigis' children comes to the revolutionary centre after her clinic to help out in the press office along with six other women. The prominent role played by Bugaigis in the events of the past 12 days has encouraged many other women in Benghazi to join the volunteers helping out in the building.

They are all driven by an ambition to play an active role in public life, a more significant role than simply appearing on TV screens standing behind Gaddafi as bodyguards.




Vera Gottlieb 28 February 2011 - 6:16pm / Germany

A usually men-dominated Arab/Muslim world, it is abolutely fantastic to see so many women getting openly and publicly involved.

Anonymous 28 February 2011 - 1:41pm / NL

Now the Lybian intellegence services know where they are, how many and who they are. What sort of journalism is this?. If this were a world war and you reported like this on the allies fight against the Germans you would be taken out and shot.

user avatar
Theo Tamis 28 February 2011 - 2:55pm

Thank you for your comment. This is not a world war and the people in the story wanted to be named. Our reporter on the ground did of course ask Salwa Bugaigis whether she felt she could be in danger because of this article. People like Ms Bugaigis are in fact the new face of Libya and Mr Gaddafi certainly already knows who they are.

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