Published on 22 Sep 2014

Murdered in the fight to build a democratic Libya

When I heard about the killings of two teenage civil society activists in Libya this weekend, I found myself thinking about Scotland.

All those 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds with saltaires painted on their faces passionately arguing pro and anti independence. How lucky they are that now, win or lose, they can go back to school or college and get on with their lives, invigorated and enriched by their first experience of democracy.

How much higher are the stakes in Libya.

Tawfik Bensaud (pictured below) was 18. His bright face and dark curls stare out from any number of social media sites. He was part of a youth movement based in Benghazi, enthusiastically debating what kind of government Libya should have after the revolution that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

“If youth are given a chance, they can find a peaceful solution,” he said. “My message to Libya’s youth is: you are powerful and you can make change. You just need to take the opportunity and act.”

According to a source in Tripoli, on Friday Tawfik and his friend Sami were driving through central Benghazi early when three cars suddenly appeared. One blocked their path. Men sprang from the other two and shot into Tawfik and Sami’s vehicle. Both young men were killed.

Eight other people, three more civilians and five army officers, were murdered in the same 24-hour period. They’re calling it Black Friday.

Why were they killed? Their friend and fellow activist Alaeddin Attiga believes that Islamists, who hate civil society activists and have killed scores of others, were to blame.

“He was a strong voice against them,” he said. “He never got afraid of them.”

Islamists are also believed to have been responsible for the killing of the Benghazi lawyer Salwa Bugaighis. another key civil society activist.

A retired general with his own air force has attacked the extremists but neither side has managed to prevail. Libya has no effective police force or army, so armed men take the law into their own hands.

Back in 2012, Tawfik took part in a song and dance routine with other young people (see below). “The sky’s the limit, I have no more fear,” they sang. “We want the good, we want safety, we can make a change.”

Courtesy of the British Council, he and his friends came to London to see how parliament works and to meet young political and civil society activists here. How innocent those days seem now, as Libya is torn apart by competing militia, politicians, neighbouring countries and criminals.

Tawfik’s friends are struggling to keep faith that one day Libya can emerge from chaos and one day build the democratic state they dreamed of.

“I think we should all be ashamed that we reached a point where Tawfik is dead,” said Alaeddin Attiga. “This is a very sad and shameful day for all off us. Somehow everyone is responsible for this, even those who loved him.”

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8 reader comments

  1. Alan says:

    Honest words from Attiga. Unfortunately the criminals responsible for the destruction of Libya will not be content until our corporate brand of democracy is shoved down their poor throats.

  2. anon says:

    Dear Ms Hilsum,

    your care about such things comes across so clearly in what you write, and this is the same for your colleagues. Channel 4 is caring, outstanding,

    But for circumstances, fate any of us could be someone else’s shoes, my question, my concern, perhaps my realisation is that for many who currently govern us and other countries, such events leave them cold, unmoved, they feel nothing, Aside from being almost a clinical question -why do some people not feel, do not care, the question for the rest of us is, what do we do to change the world we live in? None of what you report should be happening, we have the means to stop it, but we look away, and this would not involve a replay of the Iraq war (if) this is what some might wish for.

    Just as the strategy to stop IS is to starve them of the arms and money to wage their evil ,surely the same strategy could be employed in Libya and elsewhere?

    For our governments, for the sake of all of us at home and people everywhere, how can those who [truly] care and will take actions to make a better World, put others first and themselves last as leaders are supposed to, get into the positions to make this happen, and not be changed in the process of gaining such positions into the sort of people they need to replace?

  3. Mohammed alagta says:

    Thank you for shedding light on tawfik and sami’s assassination !

    I hope everyone know now how difficult and life costing is to speak your mind in libya , but that never let tawfik , samy nor anyone else ( my self included ) to stop doing it ! For libya , and now for tawfik and sami’s legacy !

    They are my roll models !

  4. dennis paling says:

    So very tragic. The UK should never have destabilised Libya, nor Iraq and Syria. William Hague’s time as Foreign Secretary has caused more death and mayhem than any other Foreign Secretary in modern times.

  5. Peadar MacGhabhain says:

    Murdered in the fight to build a democratic Libya

    When I heard about the killings of two teenage civil society activists in Libya this weekend, I found myself thinking about Scotland.

    All those 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds with saltaires painted on their faces passionately arguing pro and anti independence. How lucky they are that now, win or lose, they can go back to school or college and get on with their lives, invigorated and enriched by their first experience of democracy.

    How much higher are the stakes in Libya.

    Tawfik Bensaud (pictured below) was 18. His bright face and dark curls stare out from any number of social media sites. He was part of a youth movement based in Benghazi, enthusiastically debating what kind of government Libya should have after the revolution that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

    “If youth are given a chance, they can find a peaceful solution,” he said. “My message to Libya’s youth is: you are powerful and you can make change. You just need to take the opportunity and act.”
    – See more at: http://blogs.channel4.com/lindsey-hilsum-on-international-affairs/murdered-struggle-build-democratic-libya/4451?msg_id=DM1881&nl_bid=147901960#sthash.L7PzTZdQ.dpuf

    Yes dear Lindsey was responsible for writing the above garbage , marvels at Scotland , marvels at democracy at work in Scotland , and college kids getting a REAL experience of democracy at work,isn’t it great to be born in the UK

    Look at Libya , a disgrace, total mayhem, death and destruction, kids dont know democracy, dont know its liberating outcome , the road to freedom ?

    Such nonsense, Libya had free education,health,and social services under Gaddafi, yes this scoundrel saw to it .
    But he was regarded as a danger to the freedom loving West and America, so our heroes, the beacons of liberty, saw to it that Libya would leveled to the ground.

    Complete destruction,a country now , like Iraq, in ruins, where death stalks round every corner. Legacy of the Bush and Blair initiative, carried on by Obama and Cameron.

    And Lindsey talks of democracy , laughable if it wasn’t so lamentable

  6. A Elbadri says:

    This is a little tribute to all the peaceful Libyan activists who paid the ultimate price for a democratic and free Libya. And for the over 1000 assassinated souls in Benghazi.

    Libyan boys with a big dream,

    Tawfik and Sami, two little Libyan boys with a big dream,
    They breathed Benghazi and loudly sang Libya’s name,
    They wanted nothing for themselves, no money or fame
    But for all Libyans to live in peace and feel no more pain
    They were gunned down by a killer that has no shame,
    They stood for us and for their death we’re all to blame
    For we cowardly sat in the corner and took what came,
    They lit candles for the killed, who will now carry the flame?
    One thousand and one assassinations, with no one to blame
    The least we could do is to remember their deed and name
    The forces of dark, and the armed and greedy are in the frame
    Killers with alien thoughts who could not see the boys dream
    Yesterday those killers were amongst us, we all lived the same
    Today they steal souls, and slaughter people while they scream
    We may die, but we’ll not surrender to terror or to their evil aim
    Tawfik and Sami, lit candles for us to follow the light of the flame
    And before them, Buzeid, Salwa and Al Musmari did the same
    Forget not the missing, kidnapped Banon and more of the same
    May their souls be forgiven and their names will last in good fame.

    By Abubaker Elbadri

    1. Fidel777 says:

      Loved the passion of your poem. Thank You.

  7. barbara says:

    Democracy is only possible in a society that recognises law and order and abides by the same. that is not LIBYA.

    Gadaffi wanted, achieved and enjoyed power . Order was maintained with cruel laws and excessive punishments. With such a regime he was able to maintain law of a kind and develop some social limprovements.

    History shows that true democracy? takes centuries to evolve. Why does the world expect democracy to develop and be underst ood and accepted in societies where tribal rivalry has been endemic for centuries and killing and violence are the norm to solve disagreements unless controlled by a violent regime..

    The young ambassadors in LiBYA were idealistic and naïve to expect such enlightened ideas to be accepted by those whose respect for law involves killing rivals and those with differing views.

    Perhaps the horrors of ISIS will make a beginning for tolerance between the differing branches of Islam. It would be a tentative beginning.

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