U-M lecturer Fawzia Bariun says that’s the ultimatum Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi gave his subjects. As a young journalist in Libya, Bariun interviewed the former army officer in the early 1970s, and recalls how “he is always looking up, like he is taking revelations [from] Heaven!” As critics of Qaddafi’s regime, Barium and her physician husband, Mahmoud Tarsin, knew they were in peril. They fled the country in 1974.
This past May, Bariun returned to her homeland for the first time in thirty-seven years–to attend a conference of dissidents working to overthrow the dictator. At the meeting in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, her name was floated as a possible minister of education in a post-Qaddafi government. Bariun was flattered but not interested–her husband and five grown sons live in the Ann Arbor area. Besides, she says, the possibility remains hypothetical as long as Qaddafi rules Libya’s capital, Tripoli.
Bariun’s parents and eleven siblings live in Tripoli. Although she talks to them regularly, they are afraid to speak candidly, she says, because their phones may be tapped. Although Bariun says she is “very optimistic” that Libya’s strongman will eventually be overthrown, she is frightened for her family and friends.
Qaddafi has created a terrifying cult of personality, and Bariun says that many of his followers really believe the rebels are pawns of “Western imperialism.” If Qaddafi fights to the end, the capital could become a battleground. Says Bariun, “I [would] hate to see my city demolished.”