© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Female Parliamentarians Urge Washington To Return Attention To Libya


Several female members of Libya's Parliament visited Washington recently. They were here to draw attention to the erosion of women's rights in their home country. When revolution swept across Lybia in 2011, many women were among those pushing for change. The U.S. was there, too. It led bombing raids that helped topple Libya's longtime ruler. But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the female parliamentarians say that now Washington has turned away.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Sabah Alhaj Faraij says she was an eager participant in the uprising against Moammar Ghadafi. A lawyer by training, she took part in demonstrations in her home town, Tarhuna, not far from the capital, Tripoli. And when the country held elections last year for Parliament, Alhaj Faraij decided to run as her interpreter explains.

SABAH ALHAJ FARAIJ: (Through interpreter) Her town encouraged her because they saw in her a figure that can represent a town that is in lack of almost everything. And they wanted a strong voice, and they - so that a woman with her personality and character can represent that.

KELEMEN: But Libya has been in political turmoil since then. The former Parliament refused to give up power, and she and her colleagues in the House of Representatives had to move to Libya's eastern city of Tobruk while her relatives at home faced threats from local militias. That's according to Libya's top diplomat in Washington, Wafa Bugaighis, who was interpreting and speaking for the Libyan parliamentarian.

WAFA BUGAIGHIS: She hasn't been to her town since she moved to Tobruk because of the security reasons and because of the pressure that's been put on the House of Representatives from many militias in the west. So things have not been easy for her at all.

KELEMEN: Bugaighis says Islamists have been eroding women's rights in Libya and are refusing to accept their electoral losses. The political crisis has also brought a new danger to women, the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

BUGAIGHIS: We will never regret overthrowing Ghadafi, but now we are facing a threat that many countries in the world are facing. The vulnerable situation in Libya - the transitional situation has made it a fertile land for terrorists. It's attracting terrorists from all over the area.

KELEMEN: The U.N. Security Council voted recently to allow some exceptions to an arms embargo to help Libyan forces battle ISIS, but Claudia Gazzini of the International Crisis Group calls that a dangerous gamble at a time when the U.N. is trying to bridge the divides in Libya and negotiate a unity government.

CLAUDIA GAZZINI: We are in a delicate moment where negotiations are still in place. These are negotiations between two blocks - military and political - that are not trusting each other quite yet.

KELEMEN: And while the U.N. has taken a lead in negotiations, she says Libya is one of the few countries where there's no U.N. office. There's also a no major Western embassy. All the major players in the 2011 U.S.-led intervention have pulled out their diplomats, and Gazzini says that makes it all the more difficult to help Libya out of its current turmoil. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.