Scores or perhaps hundreds of killings remain unsolved in Benghazi, Libya, since the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi nearly four years ago. But no victim has symbolized the crushed hopes of the Libyan uprising more than Salwa Bugaighis.
Ms. Bugaighis, an outspoken human rights lawyer, was among the revolt’s first and most important leaders, and she was also the most prominent woman in the rebels’ early provisional government.
Colonel Qaddafi, in his bizarre style, had opened opportunities for women in ways that few other Arab strongmen ever did. “It is an undisputed fact that both man and woman are human beings,” Colonel Qaddafi wrote in the Green Book, his magnum opus of philosophical musings. He expanded women’s education, sharply reduced illiteracy among women, enabled women to enter new professions, and conspicuously included uniformed women in both the army and the police.
But Libyan culture remained deeply conservative, especially in the towns and villages, where women and men rarely mix outside their families. Nearly every Libyan woman wears some sort of Islamic head covering.
Ms. Bugaighis was one of the few who did not. Raised in Britain as the daughter of a dissident in exile, she believed the uprising of 2011 could usher in not only a new democracy but also expanded individual freedoms, including for women.
Instead, Libya began breaking down almost immediately into a patchwork of city-states dominated by various regional, ideological or criminal armed groups, spreading violence and lawlessness around the country.
Ms. Bugaighis opposed the militias who aligned with political Islam, and also the ambitious general who declared a coup and went to war against them. By the spring of 2014, she and her family had left Benghazi after an assassination attempt nearly killed her son. But she risked returning home to cast her ballot in elections held that June and urged others to do the same.
“My people, I beg of you, there are only three hours left,” she wrote on Facebook at about 5:45 p.m. on Election Day, warning Libyans that the polls would soon close.
She was killed in her home — stabbed and shot — later that night, and her death marked a turning point from bad to worse for Libya.
The Parliament chosen in that election was irreconcilably divided and the political process in Libya broke down completely. Militias have organized against one another in a civil conflict that for the last nine months has crippled the country and killed thousands. The murder of Ms. Bugaighis remains unsolved; her husband also disappeared the night she was killed, and his whereabouts is unknown.
The Trials of Spring is a six-part series about women who played important roles in their countries during the Arab Spring. The series is presented by The New York Times in conjunction with a feature-length documentary produced by ZAG Line Pictures LLC in association with Fork Films, Artemis Rising Foundation and the Center for Independent Documentary. For more, visit thetrialsofspring.com.
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(via NY Times)