Reflections, commentary and analysis from Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University.
I am separated by one year from former Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens. He and I were both Peace Corps English teachers in Morocco in the early 1980s, and shared, no doubt, a love of the region and a feeling of safety and security when living there. The year I arrived in Morocco was 1986, a year after the late Ambassador Stevens had left, and just after the U.S. bombed Libya in response to a terrorist attack in Germany.
The U.S. Peace Corps had taken precautions to protect American volunteers, with an evacuation plan in place to bring everyone back to the capital if necessary. The volunteer that I was replacing in my small town at the base of the Atlas Mountains remarked that he felt safer staying with his local Moroccan friends. So the fact that Chris Stevens, who had many Libyan friends, was fluent in Arabic, and was the U.S. representative in Benghazi, Libya during the violent civil war last year, rejected heavy armed protection is not surprising.
Nor is it surprising that factions have developed in Libya, a country whose political realm was completely monopolized by one man for 40 years, and that some would be reactionary and violent. Terrorists don’t meet or interview their victims before they attack, an embassy is a symbol of the country it represents, and the U.S. was not only an adversary of Libya for years, it has supported unpopular regimes in the region, such as the Egyptian president right up until his removal.
What are perhaps surprising are the protests that recently occurred in Libya against the armed militia groups and in particular the one responsible for the death of the U.S. ambassador and the others. These protests seem to be getting less attention than the violent ones against the Embassy, but they probably represent a much larger portion of the Libyan population, and bode well for Libyan political culture. You cannot remove a repressive government violently and expect citizens to have trust right away in the process as the new government forms. There is a new opportunity in Libya for many voices to be heard for the first time, and hopefully those of reason will prevail.
There are already clear signs that Libyans share in the grief in the death of Ambassador Stevens, who, despite the pain, I feel very proud to have had represent, and continue to represent, the U.S. in North Africa.
Mary Jane Parmentier is a senior lecturer for the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at ASU and is a former Peace Corps volunteer.