Hope in UK: Libyan exiles expect better days

AP News
Posted: Sep 04, 2011 5:20 AM
Hope in UK: Libyan exiles expect better days

Clean new clinics staffed with top doctors and nurses. A properly equipped school system with teachers who care. A political model that works, where citizens' views are represented and compromise is seen as not only possible, but honorable.

These are some of the high hopes held by Libyan exiles and their supporters in Manchester _ home of the U.K.'s largest Libyan community _ and in other English cities now that dictator Moammar Gadhafi is on the run, his power gone.

Many in Manchester's community of about 5,000 exiles have sent aid, or seen their husbands and brothers go back to join the uprising, and now some are making plans to go back and help directly in what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reverse decades of decay in their oil-rich, underdeveloped homeland.

Dentist Monder Zbaeda wants to start a health clinic in Libya with his brother and father, both doctors. Teacher Sondes Abdul-Malek wants to raise her 8-month-old son Bilal there, if possible. British-born Lucinda Lavelle hopes to join her husband _ who is founding a new political party in Libya _ to try and shape a new Libya.

"Those of us who have been blessed by being abroad and having education and opportunities have a duty to go back and help," said Zbaeda, 28, who hopes to help influence the new government's health care policies. "We want to forget the past as best we can and concentrate on the future."

They are earnest but not naive. They know the revolution could be hijacked in myriad ways, that corruption will not simply disappear, and that there will be divisions about what sort of society to build now that Gadhafi and his family have been dislodged.

They concede, also, that some Libyans who remained inside the country may not appreciate compatriots who come back from the West with fancy degrees and advanced language skills, and try to tell them how a new society should be structured.

"There will be a bit of resentment because those from the West may have better education and be better able to liaise with foreign companies," Zbaeda said. "You might find a lost generation within Libya who never had the opportunities to go abroad and train. We have to help our brethren find opportunities."

With the capital Tripoli liberated and Gadhafi loyalists holding on to a dwindling number of cities, the Libyans in Manchester feel complete victory is near. They celebrated their country's liberation _ an event many thought would not be achieved in their lifetime _ at a party Saturday in Manchester's Whitworth Park organized by the British branch of the Libyan People's Solidarity Group.

Many who blame Gadhafi for destroying their families after he came to power 42 years ago are jubilant about his fall, but wary of what comes next. They want to make sure another self-styled strongman doesn't take his place.

"The last thing we need is another personality coming in to take over," said Lavelle, secretary of the British Libyan Solidarity Campaign.

Lavelle's husband Azeldin el Sharif is already back in Libya, where he planned to announce the formation of a political party. He had received political asylum in Britain, but will no longer seek that protective status now that it is safe for him to live in Libya, and Lavelle plans to join him.

"He wants to be involved in the political rebuilding of his country and I want to be with him," she said.

"My biggest worry for Libya is the way the regime has been run for 40-odd years, it depends on networks of family and friends and a huge amount of corruption _ it worries me that that might drip into the future," she said.

The family has already been touched by the fighting _ her brother-in-law was killed in the uprising, as was one of her husband's cousins. These losses, and thousands more, have tempered Lavelle's pleasure in Gadhafi's fall.

"You can't feel great with so many thousands of people dead and so many missing," she said. "So much tragedy, and it was unnecessary. You don't feel happy, but you feel relief that it's now nearly over."

Most Libyans in Manchester understand that difficulties lie ahead even as more and more world leaders recognize the National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya.

Abdul-Malek, who wants to return with her husband and infant son to teach, said she is apprehensive now that hard decisions have to be made about what comes next.

"The times are exciting, but questions will rise now about who will hold Libya next," she said. "Everyone wants democracy, and they want someone with their head screwed on properly, and someone who won't rule for 42 years."

Her strongest feeling, however, is joy. She sees vindication for her father, who has for decades spoken out against Gadhafi's human rights abuses, leading to fears that he might face reprisals from Gadhafi's agents.

"In the mornings, when he'd drop my mum off at work he wouldn't let her go to the car, he'd switch it on and test it first so if they had done something to the car it would be just his life, not our life, that was taken," she said.

After living with fear for so many years, it is not surprising that the family has celebrated by using a well-scuffed picture of Gadhafi as a doormat.

Abdul-Malek, 29, said a stigma has been lifted for Libyans living abroad.

"For a long time, many Libyans were kind of embarrassed to be Libyan, because of living in the shadow of Gadhafi," she said. "He's a clown and people think Libyans are like him, weird and eccentric. Now patriotism is coming out. I'm proud the Libyans have made him fall and brought freedom."

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