Libya’s transitional government has strong ties to the Lower Mainland
Zako’s Deli at Vancouver’s 500 West Broadway isn’t just about poutine and smoked-meat sandwiches. It also has a deep connection to the long resistance against the now-dead Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the strongman who ruled Libya for 42 years.
And, perhaps surprisingly, several members of Libya’s current transitional government have strong ties to the Lower Mainland.
As the campaign draws to a close for Libya’s July 7 election of members for a national congress, deli owner Salah Saleh is cheering. Originally from the city of Benghazi, which gave birth to the revolution that toppled Gadhafi last year, he fled to Canada in 1990.
“For somebody like me who lives here, all I want is for them to have a very good election,” Saleh told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “And for the country to move forward.”
The 50-year-old proprietor shared the story about the name of the deli, which he opened in 2006. He said that Zako was the nickname of a boy called Zakaria, a son of former Surrey resident Ashur Bin Khayal. The latter is now Libya’s transitional minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation.
“He’s my friend,” Saleh said about Bin Khayal. “He’s a very good man, a gentleman. We were in the opposition together. We were opposing Gadhafi for a long time.”
Two other members of Libya’s governing National Transitional Council came from Benghazi like Saleh and did postgraduate engineering studies at UBC. And they lived in Richmond.
Saleh knows them both: Anwar al-Fayturi, minister of communication and information technology, and Awad al-Barasi, minister of electricity and renewable energy. The three of them first met years ago in Montreal, where Saleh then lived.
The Zako’s Deli owner recalled that one of the things he and Bin Khayal advocated was for Libya to have a constitution. This should become a reality with the July 7 election. Hani Faris, an adjunct professor of political science at UBC, explained over the phone that Libyans will elect 200 members of a national congress. This body will appoint a prime minister, a cabinet, and a constituent assembly to draft the constitution of Libya.
Whether or not Libya will succeed with the election is an open question, according to Faris, president of the Boston-based Trans-Arab Research Institute. He identified three major concerns facing the country: the unstable security situation brought about by the presence of heavily armed militias, the absence of a democratic culture as a result of the years of autocratic rule, and the reemergence of regionalism and tribalism.
Faris also noted the West’s indifference following the fall of Gadhafi. “Since they have destroyed the former regime, they are basically now uninterested in Libya inasmuch as they have secured their real interests, which is the oil industry and the oil market, which now they are back in control.”