By George Grant.
Tripoli, 12 September:
Ambassador Christopher Stevens served with distinction in Libya over several years, and was an unashamed enthusiast both for the country and its people.
Stevens lived and worked in Benghazi during last year’s revolution as the US representative to the National Transitional Council, before being appointed US Ambassador in Tripoli in May this year.
Between 2007 and 2009, he served as America’s deputy chef de mission in Libya, a post that brought him into contact with Muammar Qaddafi, whom he described as “notoriously mercurial” whilst acknowledging the dictator’s powers as an “engaging and charming interlocutor”.
A fluent speaker of Arabic and French, Stevens held a number of other Middle East postings during his diplomatic career, including in Cairo, Damascus and Jerusalem.
He also served in the Peace Corps in North Africa after graduating from university.
I was fortunate to have met Stevens several times following his appointment as ambassador, and what struck me most was his gentleness and sincerity of character.
Shortly prior to the successful National Congress elections in July, Stevens spoke of his optimism for Libya, saying he was “hopeful” for a transition to democracy which “seems to be on track”.
He spoke of the “truly historic process on which Libya is now embarking”, and was enthusiastic in his desire for the United States to facilitate in any way it could.
When not at work, Stevens enjoyed exploring Libya’s rich archaeological heritage, some of the finest in North Africa, together with its varied and sometimes less-than spectacular cuisine.
Stevens’s death in Benghazi yesterday was as tragic as it was untimely. He was visiting the city for a few days, reportedly to deliver a message urging calm following recent unrest there.
Ordinary Libyans and officials alike have robustly condemned the attack, and protests are being planned demanding action from the government in both Benghazi and the capital, Tripoli.
This time, however, there is genuine pressure on ministers to offer more than just words. This is not the first time that foreign diplomats have been attacked in Benghazi, and nor is it likely to be the last.
Fringe militant groups, who by no means represent the majority of opinion, are nevertheless able to perpetrate such violence because they feel a sense of impunity.
With Libya due to select a new prime minister in the next 24 hours, concerted efforts must be made to find those responsible and bring them to justice. This time it is not just Libyans but also the world who will be watching.