Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pro-Gaddafi Libyan Students Protest in Washington Over Denial of Assistance

Gadhafi-sympathetic Libyan students protest in Washington

By Noah Rouse, Intern
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012

Students gathered in front of the Watergate building in Washington D.C. Aug. 15 to protest a lack of support from the post-Moammar Gadhafi government in Tripoli, Libya. When secret service agents apprehended a man ranting inside of the Watergate complex, he had allegedly told one of the building’s employees he would blow up the historic building.

Authorities later learned the man was a Libyan national who was studying abroad and had been part of a student protest in front of the Libyan embassy, which is housed inside the Watergate building. The students, part of a group that drove from the Missouri University of Science and Technology (MS&T) to Washington D.C., had been protesting for increased support from the government in Tripoli, who they claim has not been providing them with the same support they received under the Gadhafi regime.

Abdelmajeed Ali, a Libyan graduate student studying abroad at MS&T was one of the protest leaders.

"There are many students that have lots of problems regarding the scholarships they got from the government," Ali said. "Students are struggling to figure out how to survive."

Students have been cut off from their scholarships since the Battle of Tripoli in August 2011 and the subsequent ousting of the Gadhafi regime.

The protesters hoped to be heard by the embassy's diplomatic staff, but were instead met with police as they did not have a permit to protest at the building. No arrests besides that of the alleged threat-maker were made.

"There was a big crowd and the head of the embassy said we needed to get out of the embassy because it was too crowded," said Ali. "So they decided to kick us out of the embassy by calling the police."

Education had been part of the Libyan Jamahiriya since its beginning. In his famous Five Points speech, in which he outlines his ideology of “Islamic Socialism,” Gadhafi emphasized the importance of education alongside democracy and welfare in the then new Libyan state.

These early reforms included creating a department of education, making primary education free and compulsory for both genders and expanding higher education,including scholarships to study abroad.

The reforms led to the doubling of literacy rates for both men and women, and Libya became the most educated society in Africa by a wide margin. They backfired for the regime, however, when those students returned from abroad to join in the revolution. Besides providing important manpower to the rebels, engineering students designed makeshift weapons for the protest, using the degrees they received from Gadhafi's programs.

Among the weapons were explosives strapped onto remote-control cars, anti-aircraft guns mounted onto trucks and fired using their windshield wiper controls, and rocket launchers powered by 9-volt batteries.

Peter Greenwald, a senior advisor at Penzance, the managing firm in charge of the Watergate complex, told Foreign Policy's Blog The Cable, "This is a matter that is now being handled by the appropriate law enforcement agencies and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further."

The students again attempted to protest the following Tuesday, only to find the building closed. The group returned back to Missouri shortly after with nothing to report, Ali said.

The Libyan ambassador, Ali Aujali, was out of the country during the protests and was not able to comment, but the deputy chief of mission at the embassy said he would communicate the students' grievances to the government in Tripoli.

Secret Service spokesman Max Milien confirmed Aug. 20 that one man was arrested at the Watergate office building on the charge of "felony threats".

The suspect has since been released from custody and faces a Sept. 21 court date.

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