By Igor Kossov
Friday, July 29, 2011
Libyans have lived under a dictatorship for over 40 years and the effort to think and act freely doesn't come easily. In Benghazi, a small women-led group called Express is waging a psycho-social effort to "Get Rid of the Gadhafi Inside You."
BENGHAZI, Libya (WOMENSENEWS)--While rebel fighters battle for a democratic future in the west of Libya, a handful of women back in the rebel capital of Benghazi are working on showing people what democracy actually means.
The small group, going by the name Abeer or Express, will be hosting its most ambitious project to date later this summer, after Ramadan is done--the First Libya Youth conference to spread the ideals of democracy.
"We don't expect [change] to happen overnight," Heba Abdelgader, a Libyan-American born in Los Angeles who came to Benghazi to help out, told Women's eNews. "The new Libya is between the hands of the youth."
The organizing group for Express is very small. It lists only six people as its core members--five young women and one young man--but its goal is ambitious: to ensure that democracy and personal freedom flourish in Libya.
For 42 years--since Col. Moammar Gadhafi's 1969 coup--the country has known mainly autocracy and secret police acting on the colonel's behalf.
Members of Express say Libyans crave democracy but aren't quite sure what it means.
Fourth-year medical student Halima ben Jomiah, 22, is the founder of the group. Two years ago, she stumbled across the subject of human development and self improvement in books like "Do Not Grieve" by Sheikh Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni and "The Leader In You," the 1936 classic by Dale Carnegie. Ever since, she's been hooked, reading about psychology and how to realize human potential whenever she could find the time.
Ben Jomiah, her sister and her friends decided that for the revolution to succeed, people have to have correct attitudes about democracy: not being afraid to speak, but at the same time, having the respect to listen.
They called their group Express in order to focus on personal expression as a form of civic participation.
As a first step, the group has interviewed dozens of Libyans to get a sense of their hopes and dreams and what is standing in the way. Express has also solicited opinions from advanced researchers in human development, such as Egypt's Sherif Araba and Libya's Omar Gnaiber.
They have also studied government models in countries like Japan and Switzerland, which the group considers to have robust democracies.
This work has culminated in the "Getting Rid of the Gadhafi Inside You" campaign.
As part of the campaign, the group has passed out thousands of brochures in Benghazi's Liberation Square, where crowds gather to listen to speeches from the political open microphone on the stage. They also held a public lecture on the subject of respecting others' opinions and put together a video montage of Libyans saying what they want to change in their country.
Benghazi is not entirely out of war danger. A car bomb exploded two months ago in front of the radiator-shaped Tibesti hotel in the city's downtown. And yet last week, as the sunset streamed through the windows of the hotel, which is commonly used as a meeting point for revolutionary business, the six members of Express gathered on the second floor to catch a faint Internet signal, sit in a circle and plan for the future.
Ben Jomiah, soft-spoken and wearing a pink hijab, typed rapid-fire ideas on her laptop under the heading "Express."
"After revolution, people have lots of motivation to change," said ben Jomiah, taking a break from her work to speak with Women's eNews. "If someone is into the revolution and wanting to change, you want to give them an open plate and show what are the norms of democracy."
By Courtney C. Radsch
By Igor Kossov
By Juhie Bhatia
By Elizabeth Kristen
By Maggie Freleng
By Inna Naroditskaya and Rachel Tollett
By Hajer Naili
WeNews staff reporter