Libya hopes poll will leave tragic past behind

Professor Emshire says despite his family’s grief the election will probably be all right


Three generations of the Emshire family will be going out together to vote on Saturday. Grandfather Ahmed had cast his choice in the elections of 1952; father Omar, as a young child, carried a placard for a candidate at the next polls held 16 years later.

One son, however, will be missing as Free Libya takes its first faltering steps towards a democratic government. He was killed, on his way home from Tripoli University, while attempting to stop a gun battle in the street when a screaming man with a Kalashnikov shot him.

Abdullah Emshire was 23 years old, a promising engineering student full of optimism for himself and his country. Omar, the dean of the science faculty at the university, shook his head and said: “The man who killed my son is in jail: he was one of the biggest drug dealers here before the revolution, one of the 1600 freed and given guns by Gaddafi to cause terrible trouble before he fled.

“Today is 40 days since Abdullah died. His mother is very upset, she cannot face that he has been taken from us. I feel very angry. It would not have been so bad if he had been killed in battle during the revolution, but to die like this…” His voice faded away.

Yet Professor Emshire and his wife, Nouria al-Ameri, who is also an academic, held that despite their personal grief the elections and the aftermath will probably turn out to be alright. “If you had as many weapons around in other countries as there are here, there would have been massacres. But here people are excited by freedom after 42 years. We have all suffered because of Gaddafi, people have heavy burdens. But we all need to move forward.”

Ibtisam Ben Amer, a businesswoman standing as a candidate for the Libyan National Party, wants to help fashion her country’s political future, but the burden she has to carry are the sins of a member of her family, something which has led to her facing abuse and threats.

Huda Ben Amer was a dedicated admirer of Colonel Gaddafi and the mayor of Benghazi until the start of the uprising last year. She also held the official title of the Secretary of the General People’s Congress of Inspection People’s Control.  Her unofficial title was ‘Huda the Executioner’.

In 1984, al-Sadek Hamed Al-Shuwehdy, an opponent of Gaddafi’s, was hanged at a staged public execution at Benghazi’s basketball stadium in front of families ordered to attend. As the condemned man writhed on the gallows, Ben Amer stepped forward and grabbed his legs, pulling him down until he stopped struggling. She would boast about her act, declaring: “We don’t need talking, we need hanging.”

One Facebook message left for Ibtasim Ben Amer stated: “If you ever get elected, don’t forget we have got guns”. She said: “Of course this person did not leave his name and details. If he or she had, I would have liked to have asked why should someone be threatened like this for having the same name, a relative, who did something very wrong. I would have liked to point out that I have suffered and my immediate family have suffered under the regime.”

Her husband, Mustafa Dreyza, resigned from the Libyan diplomatic service in protest against the Gaddafi regime turning the country’s embassies into Peoples Bureaus and filling them with activists with no experience or knowledge of international relations. It was from one such bureau, in London, that the shots which killed WPC Yvonne Fletcher were fired.

Life was made extremely difficult subsequently for Mr Dreyza and his family by the authorities. “We survived and my husband is now helping to organise my campaign. We are now trying to build a new country where things which happened in the past do not happen. We shall get there,” insisted Ibtisam Ben Amer.

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