By Maha Ellawati and Ahmed al-Obeidi.
Benghazi, 20 March 2013:
Benghazi was in jubilant mood last night, Tuesday, as it celebrated the second anniversary of . . .[restrict]the destruction by French fighter planes of the Qaddafi tank column that was heading towards the city. Thousands converged on the city centre for the festivities. French flags flew or were waved alongside Libyan ones and the celebrations lasted well into the night. Such was the crush that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy who had flown unexpectedly from Tripoli for a brief visit to join in the celebrations had to turn back to the airport because of the crowds obstructing the roads.
According to Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, the route was blocked by masses of excited people hoping for a glimpse of the former French president. Zeidan had invited him during a lunch in Tripoli to join him in Benghazi to inaugurate a monument commemorating the French attack on the talk column.
Sarkozy is seen as a saviour in Benghazi for having been the first international leader to stand with the revolution and recognize the NTC and also because of the French military action.
Among others who had flown in from Tripoli to attend the celebrations were Deputy Prime Minister Awad Barasi, the head of Tripoli Local Council Sadat Elbadri and other council members and GNC members. The head of Benghazi Local Council, Mahmoud Burezezah, also flew in from Tripoli where he had been to welcome Sarkozy.
Those in Benghazi joining in the festivities were fulsome in their praise of everyone who had taken part in the struggle to free the city and the French and others who had helped save the city.
“Today, people are celebrating and remembering the days of glory when Benghazi’s youth marched ahead as though to their weddings, clinging to Qaddafi’s tanks and crying out that none of Qaddafi’s men or killing machines would enter Benghazi,” said Libyan Special Force Commander Wanis Bukamada, pointing out that it was the revolutionaries and Libyan pilots who initially stopped Qaddafi’s army. “Then NATO made sure no other assaults by Qaddafi’s army were possible.”
Thanking NATO for their support. Osama Busneina, the manager of international registration department at Benghazi Chamber of Commerce, said that Libyans “need to be more thankful for the support of our western allies whose actions saved many Libyan lives. The revolutionaries should give more credit to the role of NATO. Without their assistance we probably would be like the Syrians.”
Another man standing nearby added that just as early Muslims sought refuge in Christian Abyssinia from persecution in Mecca, “there is nothing wrong now with Westerners helping Libya”.
It was reported that the the former president had flown by helicopter from Benghazi airport to Al-Ahly football club grounds, being the nearest point to the place where the celebrations were taking place, prompting complaints later from arch rivals Al-Nasr that he should have visited them as well.
At the celebrations was a relative of General Al-Mahdi Rashid El-Samin who is one of the city’s heroes. Holding a photo of the general, Mahmoud El-Samin, told the Libya Herald: “El-Samin was an accomplished test pilot with the largest number of flight hours in Libya. On March 19, 2011 he flew out of Benghazi airbase with his MiG 23, attacking two navel vessels approaching the city by sea. After landing, he told ground commanders that ‘if we lose five minutes Benghazi will be gone’. The family recall his response to Saif Al-Islam’s comment that ‘it’s too late, we will be in Benghazi with 48 hours’. El-Samin laughed and responded ‘we will die before letting them enter Benghazi’”.
The relative said that El-Samin left behind a wife and five daughters.
“It was a historic day for Libya, a day when its nationhood returned,” said Associate Professor of Economics, Idris Ishtiwi. “We are moving slowly but surely in the right direction because we all know that our freedom was gained at the expense of many young men.”
“Today we celebrate our victory. The people of Benghazi today are sending a signal to the world that they want real democracy, not a fake one like Mubarak’s Egypt or Ben Ali’s Tunisia,” said Omar Moose Il-Fadeel, the grandson of Fadeel Bo-Omar who fought against the Italians. He struck a cautious note. “We all know that the West was aware of Qaddafi’s coup in 1969 and did nothing to stop it until 19 March 2011, he alleged. It was now important, he insisted, “that the Western powers align themselves with the Libyan people.”