Remembering Salwa Bugaighis

Salwa Bugaighis
Armed gunmen murdered Libyan human rights activist, Salwa Bugaighis, in her home this past Wednesday. Her executors stabbed and shot the 48-year-old mother of three before likely abducting her husband, Essam al-Ghariani, who has since vanished. The couple had arrived home from voting in the Libyan parliamentary elections just before the surprise attack. Both the United Nations and European Union have condemned the violence.A lawyer from a prominent Benghazi family, Salwa advocated against the Muammar Gaddafi regime and most recently took the role of mediator between the many factions of Libya in the nation’s movement toward democracy. Believing her progressive views on the role of women in Libya angered extremists groups, she refused to bow to political pressure even in the wake of death threats. The couple did leave Libya after a previous incident in which a gunman threatened her son, yet despite warnings from friends and family, they returned to continue their fight.Following the revolution, Salwa worked on the National Transitional Council before resigning out of frustration due to alleged sexism. She then promoted minimum quotas for women in the Libyan parliament — a policy later adopted — and spoke against the proposal to obligate Libyan women to wear the hijab.

Although Salwa wished to change the stereotypes of women in her country, she did not find this to conflict with her Islamic faith, saying in a 2012 interview with The Global Observatory, “…we are Muslims, we are proud that we are Muslims but we want moderate Islamist. We want Libya like that.” She later added, “My main concern is the role of the women in the future. We want equal opportunity in all sectors. We want to ensure that our rights in the constitution will be there.”

Rebuilding a country has been no easy task for the new government, which struggles to enforce its borders against terrorists and the trade of illegal goods. Libyan illegal arms have made their way to militants in Mali and the Palestinian territories. The revolution left the infrastructure in ruins, and many Libyans seek health care in neighboring countries.

The day after the murder, chaos persisted as the Supreme Court closed for security concerns, militias patrolled the streets and a bomb outside the assembly writing the new constitution injured two. The violence hampers economic growth largely dependent on the oil sector, and threatens to further destabilize the region.

Western powers that toppled the dictatorship have refocused efforts to other worldly crises, leaving the new government largely to its own devices. After decades of oppression, the Libyan people must now confront the challenges of organizing a state from scratch. But if Salwa left her people with any legacy, it is one of hope: “We have to be patient, we have to give us some time to moving to a democratic country and I’m really optimistic about our people.”

— Erica Lignell

Sources: The Chicago Tribune, The Global Observatory, The Guardian, The New Yorker, Le Monde
Photo: New Yorker