Libyan general discusses military priorities
Interview by Asmaa Elourfi for Magharebia in Benghazi – 16/08/12
Major General Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi was among the first military commanders to defect from Moamer Kadhafi's regime. He held several high-ranking posts, including Deputy Director of Military Intelligence and Chairman of the Republican Guard in Benghazi, before switching sides.
Al-Obeidi now serves as the deputy chief of staff. He spoke to Magharebia about the role the military can play in re-building the country in transition and recounted his own story of joining the historic rebellion.
Magharebia: How did you join the February 17th revolution?
Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi: I decided to join the revolution on February 18th, after I refused orders to attack the city of Derna. Kadhafi's secretary Ahmed Ramadan called me and instructed me to contact Major General Abdel Fattah Younis and General Mohamed Abbas in order to assign me to discipline Derna.
Soon after the phone conversation, I called the area of Kouba to find out the truth of the matter. Co-ordinator Ibrahim al-Mansouri and some elders were determined to support the city of al-Bayda in the event of an attack.
I said to Ibrahim, "I received the order to deliver 30,000 rifles to you to attack Derna." He replied, "Absolutely not, this is unacceptable." So I called immediately Ahmed Ramadan, and I told him about my rejection of the order and disconnected permanently the line to headquarters. I consulted the people of Tobruk who were also ready to revolt against the Kadhafi regime. It was then that I aligned myself with the February 17th revolution.
Magharebia: From extremism to various foreign influences, Libya is facing a number of challenges. Are you worried about the current state of affairs?
Al-Obeidi: I am not worried, but upset only because we Libyans are simple. When we hear about Islam, we think of good behaviour and good deeds from people who care for their nation and people as it is in the Ten Commandments. These commandments are found in the Holy Qur'an and this is the real Islam. I think based on my readings that Islamist extremism is tied to the issue of Palestine and injustices taking place in the Arab world.
It is sad what is happening these days with digging up graves. All those who participated in these actions have made a mistake, which applies to the Islamists. The Desert Fox (Erwin Rommel), who fought in Libya in the Italian era, was buried in a veterans' cemetery in 1944. What I mean is that the blood of the ancestors in the camps of Brega and El Agheila is more connected to the homeland when protected, not when remains and bones are littered. I have evidence and documents proving all of this.
Magharebia: What is the reason behind suspending the formation of the national army? Who benefits from it?
Al-Obeidi: It is to the benefit of radical Islamists and those with foreign agendas who do not want the army to hold together. The army in American society, for example, is very important: the first layer is the president and the vice-president. The second layer is the Congress, while the third layer is the military.
Active nations are not afraid of their armies, but give them rights: they are given their pride, dignity and possibilities in order to defend the government faithfully, not as Kadhafi who struck hard against the Libyan army. I believe in a military institution that abides by the law and protects the constitution and the nation.
The military should protect not the ruler but the system, whether republican or royal, as the land is sacred. I believe in the institution of law, freedom and rights. This is my perception of the army of the future.
Magharebia: What do you think about the spread of weapons in Libya today? How can the country resolve the problem?
Al-Obeidi: When drums of freedom resounded, people began answering the call and handed in their weapons, with the exception of the military site that I head. Unfortunately, people seized these arms and leaked them to mercenaries from Egypt that Ahmed Kadhaf al-Dam had sent. I have the evidence. Unfortunately, weapons made their way to al-Qaeda in Algeria and Mali.
When weapons reach the hands of irresponsible people, it becomes dangerous. I imagine that al-Qaeda exists, but only part of it; yet I don't think they represent a danger. Libyans are genuinely peaceful even when we are armed. I was afraid that tribes were going to start battling with each other, but thank God, this did not happen.
The solution to curb the spread of weapons is the integration of rebels who meet the requirements of the army and police. The state should buy arms from the youth and select those young people to study abroad. We should also buy their heavy weapons.
I address my speech to every real rebel who does not want money or position. The rebel who performs his duties in full and the man who believes in principles is the one who fights for the nation. The conventional army cannot do anything, and state officials should provide incentives to those associated with security and police to study in international faculties. Weapons should be withdrawn in exchange for incentives. We should not let tribes fight with each other, because this is serious for the future of Libya.
Magharebia: How do you see the new Libya?
Al-Obeidi: Nations create geniuses, and states create polite and sophisticated societies. Imagine if Libya is ruled with justice, freedom and honest media? If Libya is in the hands of honest people and trustworthy and intellectual officers that do not loot people's money, and if the homeland is sacred for them, then it is going to be fine.
I salute all those who raise the voice of truth, the voice of the revolutionary fighter for the principles of this nation.
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