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Professor unsure about next Libyan government

Professor unsure about next Libyan government

March 4th, 2011 in News

Prof. Assma Sawani

Assma Sawani, an accounting professor at Westminster College in Fulton, isn't sure what type of government will emerge in embattled Libya, the homeland of her entire family.

"I hope Moammar Gaddafi is overthrown. All he controls now is the center of Tripoli, not even the surrounding area of the city," Sawani said.

"I'm hoping that he is replaced with a democratic, representative-type of government that suits the people. But it's hard to say that democracy as we know it is applicable to all places and all cultures. I'm not certain that it fits in every place. A democracy is kind of fluid and it builds on an existing culture and norms of a society. I hope Libya ends up with a representative democracy. I won't say it will be exactly like the United States," Sawani said.

Sawani said she does not know of any leader who might emerge after Gaddafi is overthrown. "I do know they have set up a transitional-type of government that has been set up in Benghazi, which is east of Tripoli, and is now controlled by opposition forces," Sawani said.

She said the transitional opposition government is now being run by a former justice minister who has defected from Gaddafi's forces.

"From what I understand, he is trying to get all of the cities to send representatives. So it seems like they are trying to set up a representative-type government. But I do know that they want nobody from the Gaddafi family involved," Sawani said.

"The army in Libya is significantly different than the army in Egypt or Tunisia. Gaddafi decimated the army and it has little power. It consists mostly as little militias he has set up for his sons and bodyguards. The Libyan army is significantly weaker than what an army should be. It gives the impression that he could not trust them. He came into power through a military coup so I am sure he is suspicious of the army," Sawani said.

On the question of whether Libya could become a religious state such as Iran, Sawani said "I don't think Libya could emerge as a religious state like Iran or even Saudi Arabia. Obviously, they are all Muslims in Libya. But I don't get the impression of that sentiment within the folks that are rebelling. They just want to improve the lifestyle of everyone," Sawani said.

She said most of the oil wealth of the nation has been appropriated by Gaddafi's family. She said a socialist-type of state was set up by Gaddafi to pacify the people.

Sawani said she was unaware how active the Muslim Brotherhood is in Libya. "In Egypt," the people have significantly more freedom to organize than in Libya. In Libya, Gaddafi brooks no opposition. It doesn't matter whether it is Islamic or secular opposition. I know in interviews, Gaddafi claims there is Islamic opposition and he uses that to unnerve Western audiences to scare them with the idea that the opposition are terrorists, The reality is there is no evidence to support that."

Sawani was born in the United States. Both of her parents came to the United States from Libya in 1979 and all of her relatives still live in Libya.

"My mother returned to Libya recently and is familiar with what is going on there," Sawani said.

"We have been able to contact some family members who live in Libya. We have some relatives who live outside of Tripoli. They report that Tripoli is virtually a ghost town. There is a lot of gunfire at night," she said.

Swani hopes Gaddafi doesn't get away.

Most people in Libya, she said, are staying in their homes because they are unarmed. Many years ago Gaddafi imposed strict controls on weapons. Many of the weapons obtained by people opposing Gaddafi came from members of the Army, militia or mercenaries who are no longer supporting him, she said.

"We have heard not only from my family but also from a number of Libyan families living in Columbia that many people have been shot by Gaddafi forces. There is quite a large community of Libyans in Columbia who came here originally as students and stayed in Columbia," Sawani said.

Friends and associates who live in Columbia have told her that "Gaddafi's thugs have been going into hospitals and removing injured and dead bodies so when they brought in Western reporters and others, Gaddafi's people would be able to show that nothing is going on. It's difficult to get an accurate number of people who have been wounded or killed. If someone is injured and it is not a deadly wound they won't go to a hospital because they run the risk of being taking by Gaddafi's forces," she said.

"The only supporters of Gaddafi are members of his direct family. And it is believed that the high level members of the army or militia still with him are doing so because he is holding their families hostage. If you have a government job in Tripoli it is very difficult to defect because he is holding families of key people hostage. I don't know if this is 100 percent evidence-wise but it is something that we have heard reported by Arabic sources such as Al Jazeera," Sawani said.

Gaddafi was a 27-year-old colonel in the Libyan army when he led a bloodless coup in 1969 against the monarchy of King Idris while the king was in turkey for medical treatment.

Asked if she thought Gaddafi is as erratic as he is portrayed in the Western media, Sawani said: "I think he is a megalomaniac. He has a severe narcissism and pictures himself as somewhat godlike. It's open to debate whether that is insanity. Looking at his interviews, it is apparent he has a big disconnect from reality. You can make the same argument with his son. Are they both crazy, or are they just unwilling to face what is happening? My best estimate on that is that if you spent 42 years surrounded by people who tell you exactly what you want to hear and have people now tell you exactly the opposite, then that would create a strong clash with reality," Sawani said.

Sawani is an associate professor of accounting at Westminster. She has a degree in accounting from the University of Missouri and is a certified public accountant. She teaches managerial accounting courses and various upper level accounting courses for accounting and other business majors at Westminster.

Sawani has published and presented research papers on international accounting, European Union and United States investment relations, and the impacts of foreign investment on developing nations. She is currently working on a research project on environmental accounting issues.

Born in the United States, Sawani grew up in Kirksville where both of her parents were educators. She enjoys travel and has an interest in world cultures and languages. She is fluent in Arabic and English and last visited Libya with her mother when she was 7 years old.

A Muslim, she wears a hijab, which is Arabic for scarf, around her hair as her normal dress at the university.

"I'm hoping Gaddafi is overthrown quickly and that a government that benefits the people of Libya gains power," Sawani said. "They don't want foreign military intervention. I'm hoping that this wish is respected and they are able to bring about the fall of Gaddafi on their own. I support a no-fly zone to prevent Gaddafi from bombing various areas of Libya."