Libyan Rebels Skype With Lehigh U. Students

Courtesy of Ryan Hulvat

For a roomful of students, faculty, and staff at Lehigh University, the revolution was on Skype this Friday.

Libyan rebels, using the popular Web video and telephone service, spoke with the Lehigh audience for about one hour from a conference room in Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city and the center of the rebellion that has challenged the 42-year rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi this spring.

A translator for the rebel army said he hoped the event would give students and faculty a clearer picture of what’s happening, which would in turn help them spread their message to a wider audience in the United States.

“This is real-time information,” said the translator, who said he did not want to give his name because his outspokenness had led Libyan-government forces to kidnap his brother, who has since been released. “Whatever is happening in the streets is actually conveyed to you.”

He said he was particularly interested in talking with the academic community because many policy makers emerge from its ranks.

“Through people like you we can actually form an idea of what we stand for in terms of values,” he said.

The meeting was arranged by Issa Hakim, a Libyan engineering graduate student at Lehigh who took a leave from his program last spring to return home and is now a volunteer in the rebel army.

John P. Coulter, a professor in the department of mechanical engineering and mechanics at Lehigh who served as Mr. Hakim’s adviser, moderated the event on Friday. In an interview, he said he and others at Lehigh had been in touch with Mr. Hakim periodically since the revolution began, in mid-February.

“We’ve all been concerned about him since this started,” the professor said.

With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, the Libyans explained why they thought it was necessary to overthrow Colonel Qaddafi, traced the path of the current revolution, and described the democratic government they would like to build if they depose him.

Arranged around a conference table and speaking in front of a banner that read “Libyan revolution highly appreciates the coalition intervention,” they thanked the United States for its help but called for ground support from NATO troops.

In response to a student question about what legacy the rebels would leave, Mr. Hakim said he hoped it would be clear that the actions of the rebels were a necessary response to years of repression under Colonel Qaddafi’s rule.

“We are not armed creeps or terrorists,” he said. “Necessity requires that we fight.”

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