Global Politics

The assassination of a human rights leader sends a shockwave through Libya

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Credit: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

A flower and pictures are left on an empty chair for lawyer Salwa Bugaighis, who was killed on Wednesday during parliamentary election in Benghazi.

Two years ago it was jubilation in Libya as people celebrated the first election after the fall of dictator Muammar Gadhafi. No such joy after Libya's second post-revolution vote.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Turnout was low for parliamentary elections this week. It was hoped the vote would bring some stability to Libya's chaotic political scene. That remains to be seen.

But a tragedy struck on voting day. Hours after human rights lawyer Salwa Bugaighis cast her ballot, she was shot and stabbed multiple times in her home. Bugaighis later died from her wounds at a hospital. Many Libyans are mourning her death today. Reporter Marine Olivesi, who is in Tripoli, says Bugaighis was a tireless advocate for human rights and woman's rights. "She was a hopeful, defiant and optimistic person," she says. "The news of her death sent a shock wave across Libya."

In 2011, Bugaighis was an active presence in the uprising against dictator Gadhafi. The AP reports that in the post-Gadhafi work, Bugaighis was an "outspoken voice against militiamen and Islamic extremists who have run rampant in the country."

People from the across the world have been posting memories of her on social media.

Her death is part of a macabre dynamic going on in Libya right now. Olivesi says the radical group Ansar al-Sharia has been growing over the past two years. She says they've been operating freely in Benghazi and other places in eastern Libya. "They've been blamed for a string of assassinations and car bombings," she says.

But last May, a rogue General Khalifa Haftar, declared an open war on the group he labeled as radical Islamists. He did this without the approval or authorization of central authorities. Olivesi says some officials have rallied behind his efforts. They say it’s the only way to rid the country of radicalism.

But others are questioning the tactics and say it's been dragging the country, especially in the eastern part, close to a state of civil war.

Currently, Libya's Muslim Brotherhood Party is in control of the country. It's the leading force in the country's congress. Olivesi says the big question is if the elections will change the balance of power in the country. Olivesi says even as results come in, it doesn't mean the people will know who is in control. All the candidates ran on an independent platform. There were no party lists.

"So they all used very general and clichés slogans for reconciliation, security and mainstream platforms," she says.

Olivesi says the answer won't come until the new representatives head to parliament after Ramadan. That there is even an election is in part due to the efforts made by Bugaighis and other. The author Lindsey Hilsum, a friend of Bugaighis, wrote the following after hearing the news:

I wish I could keep faith with her […] and say this post-revolutionary turbulence will settle down one day and Libya will become the democracy they craved. But this morning it’s hard to believe that, as I mourn one of the bravest women I ever met.

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