Najla Abdelmouled Doughman is an ophthalmologist living in Benghazi. Her father became dean of the University of Libya in 1967 and when the coup of 1969 toppled the monarchy, he was in Vienna. “When it was clear that the coup could have bad consequences for him he was invited to stay there and go to work in Saudi Arabia. My father refused and said his country needed him.” The day after he landed in his country, he was arrested, as were many people of stature in the weeks that followed the September coup. After one month in prison, Doughman’s father was put under house arrest. He and other colleagues began producing leaflets encouraging Libyans to refuse military rule.
“They were arrested in June 1970 before they could distribute the leaflets. My father was sentenced to ten years in prison, despite the law capping the sentence for their activities to two years. He expected to be executed so he used to speak directly to the judge, determined to state his concerns and opinions despite his lawyer’s pleas.” He was against military rule and believed Latin America and Egypt to be examples of how such regimes stunt countries. “Gaddafi looked up to Egypt and Abdel Nasser and so my father’s words were considered insults to the nationalistic ideology of their coup. It was for those words that he was sentenced to ten years.”
“When my mother first visited my father, some years after he was imprisoned, he was a skeleton. He had been a large man. Signs of torture were visible on his body, and they were not giving him the diabetes medication he needed so he ended up having to have a kidney operation. People used to call Gaddafi’s coup a bloodless one. There may not have been blood in the streets, but there was in the prisons where many died under torture.”
The family lived in Benghazi while her father was imprisoned in Tripoli and family visits were only allowed twice per year, at Eid time. “Mum couldn’t take all four of us to Tripoli on each visit, so I only saw my father once a year. We missed having dad around, but we didn’t let it break us. Mum played the role of both parents.”
Doughman’s mother was 28 years old at the time her husband was sentenced to ten years, and on that same day her own father, Hussain Maziq, was also sentenced to ten years. “My mother earned 85 pounds at the time and suddenly had to support her four children, 13 siblings and her mother.”
Maziq had been prime minister of Libya from 1965 to 1967 during the monarchy. He was among the many people of stature during the monarchy who were rounded up and arrested following the 1969 coup. “They couldn’t find anything to charge him with. Asked to define his relationship with King Idris, he called it historical and spiritual. With all these trials, the new regime was trying to show that the monarchy they had overthrown had been rife with corruption, but they turned my grandfather into a popular figure by sentencing and imprisoning him without cause. Hawary Bou Madyan, of Gaddafi’s revolutionary command council, was once asked why they imprisoned my grandfather. Bou Madyan said that he trivialised the Gaddafi revolution, making it appear unnecessary, so they couldn’t find him innocent.”
They may have also feared his ideology and influence. Maziq is now deceased, but among the many stories that were passed from generation to generation is that of his visit to Egypt during his premiership. “When my grandfather met Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president told him that the Americans had complained about him and that he should ease up on them a little. He was referring to grandpa’s insistence that the US base in Libya close down as per the contract and the desire of the people. He told his travelling companion Fathi Khoja that no one would believe him if he said that the head of the Arab Union had made such a request. Basheer Hawary, another revolutionary council member, has since said that at my grandfather’s trial they were so worried that he might talk of this incident that there was an instant switch under the councilman’s foot so as to shut off the electricity if my grandfather began to speak of the incident because Abdul Nasser was the idol behind Gaddafi’s coup and his reputation could not be sullied.”
Maziq was released after four years, but Doughman’s father served his whole ten-year sentence. “It wasn’t because he had served his sentence that he was released in 1979. Many remained in prison long after. Amnesty International lobbied on his behalf and the regime grew tired of the requests for his release.”