Monday, December 29, 2014

The Libyan rebels' DC representative speaks

I attended a discussion yesterday with the Libyan rebels' representative in Washington, Ali Aujali. He insisted that the rebels would never accept a deal whereby one of Muammar Gadhafi's sons could take over from their father, as his son Saif al-Islam has reportedly proposed.

The Libyan rebels' DC representative speaks

I attended a discussion yesterday with the Libyan rebels' representative in Washington, Ali Aujali, who insisted that the rebels would never accept a deal whereby one of Muammar Gadhafi's sons could take over from their father, as his son Saif al-Islam has proposed. The younger Gadhafi told the BBC that his father could assume a ceremonial role like "the Queen of England."

"Gadhafi and his family have to leave, there is no compromise on this," said Aujali. He is Gadhafi's former ambassador to Washington who defected after one of the dictator's sons, Saif al-Islam, called for a no-mercy-on-civilians assault on the rebel capital of Benghazi. A slight bald man in a grey suit jacket, lavender shirt, and dark tie, Aujali looked rather lost at his eagerly awaited appearance at the Center for American Progress think tank (you can watch his appearance here.)

Aujali offered little clarity about the leadership of the rebellion, which, he said, included some former Gadhafi officials, who had resigned when they saw "reform was not possible." When I asked if the rebels could win militarily, he insisted they could - if they received arms and training. While admitting that rebel fighters had performed badly, he said things would improve now that army units that had defected were taking the lead.

The rebels" spokesman urged the United States to recognize the transitional council, as Italy did this week, and give it access to frozen assets of the Gadhafi regime. "We cannot trust Gadhafi or any initiative he presents," Aujali said. "He is playing for time. Pressure must be on him all the time. He has lost touch with reality and doesn't believe the people don't want him."

Still unclear, of course, is who can/will train the rag-tag Libyan rebels to fight (French or British commandoes?), or whether potent U.S. aircraft will fly any more missions, or whether the Gadhafi regime will crumble internally. Rebels have been retreating, yet again, after Western airstrikes diminished or stopped in the wake of the U.S. turnover over command of the Libyan mission to NATO.

"For the United States to continue to be a major player in this crisis, this is very important," Aujali said. "What Americans are doing now will change the image of the United States in the Arab world. It will show that Americans not only go because they have interests...they go to support people who are willing to die for their cause."

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2009-2011 she has made four lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past seven years, she visited Iraq eleven times, and also wrote from Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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