Azza K. Maghur: Salwa Bugaighis: A loss of a nation 28/6/2015 22:15 Azza K. Maghur: Salwa Bugaighis: A loss of a nation
عزة كامل المقهور بحث

Salwa Bugaighis... A loss of a nation

By: Azza K. Maghur - Ottawa, 27 June 2015

I was sitting in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, when my Facebook homepage showed a post from Salwa, inciting her fellow citizens to participate in the House of Representativs (HoR) elections. I smiled and left a comment wishing safety to her and Benghazi, her hometown.

That same day, I was in my kitchen preparing supper, when my phone rang. My friend Maysoon was screaming and crying “They killed her!” I shouted back “Who?!” “Salwa!”, she answered. “Salwa who?!” I asked again. The disastrous news was now uttered with a deep sigh and a low voice: “Salwa Bugaighis”.

I called my friend Entisar, Salwa’s colleague at National Dialogue Preparatory Committee (NDPC) in Tripoli. She was sitting in her garden, as the news was still fresh and only propagated within a limited circle. I told her that Salwa was attacked and in the hospital in a critical condition, and asked if she could confirm. A couple of minutes later, she rang me back sobbing. We cried and mourned together on the phone. The distance between Tripoli and Ottawa suddenly widened.

I knew Salwa in the early eighties: we were students at a law faculty in Benghazi. It was the only law program in the country, meaning it was prestigious and serious. Though we were in different grades, we had some classes together. She was the tallest girl in the faculty, very pretty and elegant. She spent most of her spare time in the neighbouring politics science faculty, where she met her future husband Issam Gheriani.

Under a dictator, nothing is predictable. One day in the spring of 1984, on our way to the law building, we spotted gallows. It was so small that I told my friend who was clinging to my arm and shivering that it is only a toy to frighten us. It turned to be a real one, an instrument of execution for a law student from Zawia who spent a long time in prison, enough to have his life taken away.

In the middle of the carnage, a girl screamed “Salwa is detained!” We learned that Salwa and other female students were locked in the media and journalism building. Unlike us, Salwa could not have been missed or gone unnoticed. After a number of hours, she was released.

Salwa came back to law school, obtained her diploma, married Issam, worked as a public lawyer, and had three sons. I went back to Tripoli, then to Paris where I obtained my LLM, got married to another Issam, and had four daughters.

We met again in my law office on one of her visits to Tripoli. By then, she started her own practice, and we were both active in the human rights field. I was defending political prisoners, mostly Islamists, and Salwa was reputable for successful compensation cases for ex-political prisoners. I used to refer these cases to her, as compensation was more lucrative in Benghazi courts than in Tripoli.

In 2010, while fellow lawyers and I were interrogated by security men in Tripoli, Salwa and other colleagues were striking in Benghazi for free lawyer syndicate elections. One of the questions directed at me was if I had any connections with our law colleagues that were striking in Benghazi.

The day the revolution sparked in Benghazi in February 2011, I was on my sofa watching events unfold on Aljazeera, feeling angry and upset. The first name that came to mind was Salwa’s. I grabbed my mobile phone and called her. It took one ring to hear her voice: the voice of the revolution.

During the first two weeks of the revolution, we were talking several times a day. My phone was taped and the risk of being caught became immanent. Salwa was at the heart of the event, risking the lives of herself and her sons. Another coincidence: a week before the 17th of February, the first photo of her in front of the Court house with a banner demanding a constitution and the rule of law was published along with a short story I wrote about the Egyptian revolution, titled “The Square.” A week later, the revolution in Libya was triggered.

During the uprising, her voice was getting hoarse during our phone calls. A few days later, she completely lost her voice and had another person answer her calls. She made me hear for the first time the chant “Down with the system!” in the streets of Benghazi.

At this very moment, I realized that this was Qaddafi’s end. She asked me when Tripoli, the capital, will join them, and I would tell her that Tripoli’s districts are moving, and that a capital needs longer time to rise up as a whole. I could feel comfort in her voice. Danger was close, and I had to leave to Canada.

Despite her engagement in the revolution even before it started, her legal work and her skills, Salwa was not selected as a member of the National Transitional Council (NTC), the first political steering committee representing the  revolution. Nevertheless, she chose to be with the people in the streets.

I once suggested her for a position as Minister of Tourism to a prime minister who was in the process of forming his cabinet. He declined my suggestion with a smile, saying she is a strong woman.

Salwa found her calling in the NDPC, a process that was launched in 2013 to open channels of dialogue between rival parties in Libya, including militias.

She visited cities and villages in the mountain and the desert. Her last job was to bring people together and keep Libya as one nation.

The last time we met in my office in Tripoli was last spring, over cups of tea with mint from my garden. Salwa expressed her disappointment in the deliberate exclusion of women who paved the way for the revolution, hinting at herself.

Salwa also revealed to me that her life in Benghazi was in danger and that her son Wael escaped an assassination attempt, which prompted her to send him to Amman. I told her about the threatening calls and messages that I and other women activists had received.

That sunny day in Tripoli, we laughed, talked about our kids, families, our age. I remember that we decided it was time to go back to our legal dossiers, abandon the political headache which took us away from our practice, and enjoy our lives as women approaching their fifth decades. Alas, we never did.

A year ago today, a group of men broke into her peaceful house in her beloved city of Benghazi, shot her beautiful, resilient body that kept resisting their cowardly bullets. Salwa was killed because of her beauty, her personality, and her good will. In times of war only ugliness prevails, and it cannot coexist with beauty.

That same day, in Ottawa, after the news of Salwa’s death spread, my daughters surrounded me, mourning the loss of our nation, and begging me not to go back home.

And I didn’t.

Azza K. Maghur is a leading Libyan lawyer, NGO and human rights activist and a former independent member of the General National Congress (GNC) “February Committere that amended the Transitional Constitutional Declaration enabling the 2014 House of Representatives elections.

* The Article was first published by Libya Herald on 27 June 2015.


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Reader's Comments
Naser Bel Nouer
Salwa had everything. finely she have the glory...
ادريس مشري
غفر الله لسلوى كانت البقعة الوحيدة المضيئة في ما بعد فبراير...
الاستاذة القديرة /عزة كامل المقهور.. وفاء لروح سلوي ولكل وطني صادق احي فيك دوما عزيزتي عزة روح المبادرة واعتبر كتاباتك وثائق هامة للتاريخ السياسي والاجتماعي والقانوني . ذكرت بان سلوي…...
Azza, I'm sure Salwa is in a better place now. As for Libya, there is a deliberate exclusion of good women and men. It was and still is a country…...
Ali Hamza
Ramadan Kareem, an opportunity, in spite of the pain. Don't quit, Thank you...