Libya rebel flees to UK as revolution sours for women

Sunderland, on England’s north-east coast, is an unlikely refuge for a Libyan activist forced to flee the very revolution she helped bring about.

Report by BBC Online

Twenty-five-year-old Magdulien Abaida, who was involved in organising aid for the rebels fighting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, has just been given asylum by the UK government.

Now the city on the edge of the North Sea, where she knows no-one, has become her temporary home.

The irony of her situation is clear: “It’s very bad that you put yourself in danger to work hard for this revolution,” she says. “During the revolution everyone was united, all were working together, but now it’s quite difficult,” she says.

Abaida, the daughter of a lawyer, grew up on the shores of the Mediterranean in Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

When the uprising against Gaddafi’s 41-year dictatorship broke out in February 2011 she travelled first to Cairo and then to Paris to campaign against the regime and help organise food and medical supplies for the rebels.

After Tripoli fell to the rebels in August, she returned to Libya to campaign for women’s rights — in particular for equality in the yet-to-be-written constitution.

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 Gaddafi 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,” 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, Abaida was detained twice by members of a powerful independent militia which formed to fight Gaddafi, but which has since failed to disband.

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

Amnesty International, which supported her application for asylum, believes Abaida’s case highlights the lawlessness in the new Libya:
“Magdulien’s case is really emblematic of the behaviour we’ve been documenting since the fall of the regime,” Amnesty’s North Africa researcher Diana el-Tahawy says. “Armed militias are acting completely out of control.

There are hundreds of them across the country, arresting people without warrant, detaining them incommunicado, and torturing them.