Student from Libya speaks about unrest

The beeps in the background during phone calls with family members constantly remind Heba Abdelgader, a sophomore majoring in international relations (global business), of the civil unrest in Libya.

Abdelgader, who was born in the United States, savors the time she has to talk to her family members in Libya, despite a beep throughout the conversation that tells her the government is tapping her call. Her conversations with family members typically last only one to two minutes.

Abdelgader’s parents recently moved back to Libya because of the recession, and are now caught up in the protests taking place there.

“Just recently they moved back to try to find new economic opportunities because of the bad economic situation in the U.S., and now they’re stuck in a revolution,” Abdelgader said.

Libya has been engulfed in turmoil since Feb. 15 when protests began against dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, who has held power since 1969. The government responded to the protests with violence that shocked many.

“He’s not going to leave without inflicting every last bit of damage he can,” Abdelgader said.

The protests have been organized through e-mails and social media for almost a month, and have been primarily centered in Tripoli, the nation’s capital, and Benghazi, the second-largest city in Libya.

Abdelgader said her family has not been very active in the protests for fear of their safety.

“My mother’s been staying in the house. Someone has to stay at home because there have been reports of people breaking in,” Abdelgader said. “My dad and brother have been involved, but not as intensely as the people you see in the news.”

Qaddafi has brought in mercenaries from Zimbabwe, Chad, Sudan, Korea and Bangladesh to silence the protestors. They were given swords, guns and artillery weapons, which they have used to murder civilians, according to the Washington Post.

“In Tripoli, around Feb. 21, anybody out in the street or involved with the protests was being shot at,” Abdelgader said. “In Tajura, every time someone was shot, someone else would go try to pick up that body in order to bury it, and they were shot as well. Bodies literally started to pile up on each other.”

Qaddafi has claimed that the protestors are on drugs, bribed some civilians with cash and weapons to protest on his behalf and attempted to cover up the government’s violence, according to Rahma Abdelgader, Heba’s sister, who is currently in Tripoli and a witness of the events .

“Qaddafi removed all evidence of what has been going on,” Rahma Abdelgader said. “They even burned the bodies of people who had been killed in the streets. There are no funerals.”

In some places, however, protesting civilians have been aided by the military.

“The military joined the civilians,” Heba Abdelgader said. “They didn’t want to kill their own people. It would be like Americans killing Americans.”

Many, including the prime minister of Italy, have claimed that Qaddafi has lost hold on the eastern part of Libya, Qaddafi refuses to step down and the situation is worsening for those people who are in need of food and medical aid.

Heba Abdelgader is one of nearly 3,500 Libyans living in the United States, Canada and Europe who have started a group on Facebook called “Libyans” to get information to present news from Libya to the rest of the world.

“These are people with connections to any kind of information,” Heba Abdelgader said. “Everyone has been contacting their families who have then been messaging them pictures and videos of what’s going on.”

Heba Abdelgader said the turmoil in Libya has affected her life as a student.

“This is the most overwhelming situation I’ve ever had to deal with. Professors have been very understanding and thoughtful,” she said. “It’s very hard to live my everyday life knowing my direct family is at risk.”

Heba Abdelgader, however, has been busy contacting as many people and organizations as possible, including the news media, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the American embassy in Libya to inform people about what’s occurring in Libya.

“I’ve never been this active about anything in my life,” Heba Abdelgader said. “Americans need to do something on behalf of the U.S., because the U.S. has done nothing so far aside from condemn Qaddafi’s actions.”

USC students interested in helping can petition and donate money through groups on Facebook, such as “Wear Red for Libya.”

Although Heba Abdelgader said Although Heba Abdelgader said she believes it will be difficult to change a government that has been occupied for so long by a dictator, she believes the people of Libya are ready for a democracy.

“I’m not sure when, but I think Qaddafi will be out. There’s too much political unrest,” Heba Abdelgader said. “This revolt has been long overdue.”