Joe Podelco / photo editor
The war-torn country of Libya has secured aid from the world’s strongest military powers, but don’t expect Libyan supporters on Ohio State’s campus to cease their fight.
Demonstration efforts from Libyan citizens and other supporters from central Ohio were ratcheted up this weekend. Public displays of support for Libya took place at 200 North High St. in front of the Federal Building on Friday and at the corner of 15th Avenue and High Street on OSU’s campus on Saturday.
Operation “Odyssey Dawn,” a United States-led military campaign that is seeking to enforce the United Nations sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya, began on March 19 with heavy missile fire on targets inside Libya. On Monday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation and explained that America’s role in the conflict was to lessen significantly. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, is now in command of all aspects of the military operations in Libya.
President Obama has said that America will maintain a “supporting” role in the conflict — for this, Libyan citizens in Columbus and abroad are showing their appreciation.
Elmahdi Elkhammas, a professor of clinical surgery at OSU, was born in Libya and said Friday’s demonstration was an expression of thanks.
“Friday’s demonstration was thanking the American people for their support and protection of Libyan citizens,” Elkhammas said. “It was really from the bottom of our hearts. It was clear that the protection is needed for many other cities in Libya. And what the coalition, in particular, the United States, and what President Obama has done is more than an outstanding job to get the coalition together to protect the Libyan citizens.”
The tone of Saturday’s rally was a stark contrast to the appreciation expressed during Friday’s demonstrations.
Elkhammas said Saturday’s rally was in support of Eman al-Obediy, a Libyan lawyer who was allegedly raped by 15 soldiers who work for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
On March 25, al-Obediy was kidnapped after bursting into a hotel in Tripoli where she attempted to alert journalists to abuses she claimed to have been subjected to.
“It is really heartbreaking,” Elkhammas said. “I could imagine she could be my daughter. That day was quite depressing. We have no idea where she is right now and what is happening to her.”
Despite international coverage of al-Obediy’s abduction, she has not been seen since.
“All the people here are coming from Columbus, they are coming from Dayton, they are coming from Athens (Ohio),” Elkhammas said. “We’re here to support that girl … al-Obediy has no part in this war.”
A noticeable change during Friday and Saturday’s demonstrations from prior rallies was the presence of American flags and signs that read, “Thank You America.”
Heba BenOmran is a frequent demonstration attendee. Her voice, amplified through a battery-powered microphone, has literally and figuratively served as the collective voice of those who have repeatedly gathered on the OSU campus to protest Gadhafi.
“We are truly thankful,” BenOmran said. “We, as Libyans, inside of Libya and outside of Libya, are truly thankful for America’s involvement.”
BenOmran was quick to point out the main focus of Saturday’s protest, saying, “Today is a nationwide protest for Eman too.”
“We still want to continue thanking America for their involvement and assistance in this matter,” BenOmran said.