One month in Benghazi

A month later and I am saying farewell to Benghazi and handing over to my long-term successor. Ghadafi’s regime clings on but the passion of the struggle against him, his family and his inner circle is undiminished. The Interim National Council has learnt fast on the job. By stages they have pulled together an interim administration, which can now maintain services in liberated areas and plan for democratic transition after Ghadafi has gone. They have worked out what international help under the UN mandates can and cannot deliver; the need for invention and courage in getting help to Misrata and the Western Mountains; and that democratic debate is lengthy, consensus difficult and that untrained revolutionary zeal alone not sufficient. But they have the confidence and high morale which moral advantage affords; they have the assurance that more and more vital international support is coming through; and that they have available the freely offered talent of thousands, both from their citizen volunteers in liberated Libya but also from among the Libyan diaspora returning to serve the cause.
 
The National Council see themselves merely as custodians of the revolution and do not yet style themselves as a government. The formation of a transitional government is reserved for the moment of true liberation, after the end of Ghadafi’s regime. Nothing must be done meanwhile, all insist, to suggest any other end than a modern, free and united Libya. It is the National Council’s nightmare that Ghadafi might cling on in a Western rump of their country, defying the world and denying liberty and democratic choice to the people of Libya. Misrata’s defiant  resistance has a greater symbolic importance than just the survival of civilians against a regime’s brutal attacks. The priority given by the INC in Benghazi to sending men, material and money to Misrata and the other towns under siege in the West is done in defence of the integrity of the new Libya.
 
Every day this month, I have had conversations with Libyan citizens and politicians, direct, open, unburdened by ideology or regional history, urgent, passionate and friendly, such as I have rarely experienced before in more than thirty years work in the Middle East. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, President of the INC, when he is received in Downing Street this week, will affirm  to Prime Minister Cameron, as he has done to me at each of our meetings,  that the new Libya will above all be a “State of Law”, in all respects the diametric opposite of Ghadafi’s regime. 

Massed demonstrators have waved British, French, Italian and US flags in joy and gratitude for our collective support for their cause. Volunteer groups of Benghazi youth have organised to distribute food to the poor, while others have manned a media centre to work the internet for the cause. The makeshift military brigades of revolutionary youth have had more recruits than they can arm or train, while Ghadafi has had to resort to mercenaries and the forced conscription of Tripoli schoolboys.  My team in Benghazi has grown from three to nearly forty in less than a month. Foreign workers and Libyan citizens who had fled through the border a month ago have started to return feeling confident enough to re-engage in the new Libyan economy.
 
When schools re-open towards the end of this month, Akram may have to return to studying Pharmacy. He will be disappointed in some ways but it will be the best way he can serve the new Libya, which he and thousands like him exemplify, and which with his innocent passion he has already done so much to promote to the world.

Prentice is the departing UK Special Representative in Benghazi, Libya.