UW News

December 21, 2011

Tarhouni tells stories of Libya

Ali Tarhouni is a grateful man. Grateful that hes gotten to study and teach in the United States, that hes had the chance to help lead the Libyan revolution and that hes had strong support from his family, particularly the last 10 months.

Ali Tarhouni

Ali TarhouniUniversity of Washington /Paul Gibson

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 20 at the University of Washington, after meetings in Washington, D.C., with government officials that included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Tarhouni said the U.S. took a “moral and courageous stand” in supporting the cause against Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

“I hope that this policy, this victory, marks a new chapter in the relationship between the U.S. and Libya,” he said.

He added, “I am “humble and proud to be a citizen” of the U.S., and “I love Seattle; I realize how nice a place it is.”

Tarhouni is a senior lecturer at the UW’s Foster School of Business who took a leave last February to help lead the revolution in Libya. He has been oil and finance minister and, for a short time, was interim prime minister before becoming an envoy for the nation.

He now is forming what he called a “big umbrella” political party focused on democratic elections to be held in six months, but is not running for office himself.

“Theres no manual for building a state from scratch,” he said. “We have been hoping and dreaming about democracy, but have no history of it,” so building is difficult. Support from NATO was critical, he said.

“Sometimes you have to shed blood to save blood.”

Asked his reaction to Gaddafis death, Tarhouni said he saw the dictators corpse the day he was killed:

“I thought of the comrades and friends who would never see the day. I thought about an ugly corpse and (the man) who did this much damage.” Then, Tarhouni said, he got back in his car, and within 15 seconds was thinking of something else.

The Libyan revolution has been different from others in Arab Spring, he said. It has included many people who came home from foreign countries and organized on their own, rather than with help from the U.S. or other nations.

Foreign ministers from around the world have been visiting Libya, Tarhouni said, as their countries realize Libyas economic potential. Along with oil, there is the possibility of a strategic financial center and tourism – “a renewable source of energy,” he called it. “I hope that at the end of the day, we have a small, stable, democratic Muslim country,” he said.

Tarhouni described key moments in the recent past.

“A year ago, Id be thinking about which coffee shop to visit…Fast forward to helping liberate a city and a country.”

In Misurata, he held the hand of a 14-year-old supporter of Gaddafi whod been injured in the fighting. “Youre not my enemy,” he told the young man, who would die within hours. Tarhouni later detoured to visit a man whose five children had been killed in one day. It was for Libya, the man told Tarhouni.

Tarhouni said that for years, he had supported efforts to bring down the Gaddafi regime “but everything failed.” He and his family understood, however, that if a real chance for revolution came, he would go back to help.

Asked whether he plans to move permanently to Libya, he said nothing has been settled but that he will always remain a Seattleite.

“I am still one of you,” he said. “Where do I end up? I dont really know.”