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In Libya, women played a big but often unsung role in the revolution that toppled Moammar Gadhafi. Now, they want a place in Libya's politics. But as NPR's Corey Flintoff reports, they want it on their own terms.
COREY FLINTOFF: Hundreds of people stroll through a charity fundraiser organized by the women of Tripoli. It's probably not so different from the charity bazaars in your town. There are rows of stalls with ladies selling baked goods and handicrafts, a moon bounce and face painting for the kids, and a rock band that could use some practice. The difference is that most of the women wear headscarves, and the sales items include a lot of hand-knitted versions of the Libyan flag. These women are revolutionaries.
Twenty six-year-old Isra bin Mahmoud is part of a group called Flower of the Capital. During the war, she says, they specialized in undermining the loyalty of Gadhafi's army in Tripoli. The group made a compact disc with video of atrocities committed by the regime and passed it to government soldiers.
ISRA BIN MAHMOUD: We gave them some CDs to show them the truth, to inform them that what they do is very wrong.
FLINTOFF: This was at a time when showing any hint of dissent was enough to get a person jailed, tortured and very likely, killed.
BIN MAHMOUD: It was very dangerous, actually. But we are here. Thank God that we safe.
FLINTOFF: Now, she says, her group of 22 young women is staying together to work on post-war needs, like this fundraiser for wounded veterans.
Fatima al-Gadrub worked for the revolution under the name Samoud, which means Steadfastness. Her group wrote and distributed a newsletter and helped smuggle weapons. She used a satellite phone to call outside news outlets and report on what was happening in Gadhafi's stronghold.
The women made many of the red, black and green revolutionary flags that kept appearing on the streets of Tripoli in defiance of Gadhafi's police who were ordered to suppress them. Now that those flags fly everywhere in the city, Gadrub says she wants to stay active but doesn't feel qualified to take a role in politics.
FATIMA AL: Because I'm 30, and so I have lived 30 years in Gadhafi regime where there is no parties, where there is no any political election. So, yeah, I have no political attitudes, but there are others who lived outside Libya and have ideas about the politics.
FLINTOFF: Huda Abuzaid finds that kind of attitude frustrating. She is one of those women who lived outside Libya as a filmmaker in Britain. She came back to volunteer with the Transitional National Council, which led the revolution. She notes that there are no women on the council and says it's not because there aren't capable women available.
Abuzaid says she's looking to what she calls Libya's senior professional women to step forward into a tough and unfamiliar arena.
HUDA ABUZAID: Politics is rough. I mean, it's incredibly rough at this point, when everything is at stake and everyone wants to shape Libya's future. Nobody is going to give them those roles. And if you look at history, women have always had to fight.
FLINTOFF: Iqram Abu Besh Iman is one of those professional women, and she's lived all her life in Libya. She's an architect who also works as a volunteer to improve facilities for disabled people. She says Libyan women achieved success in many roles before the revolution in medicine, law and academia. But, she says, most women refused any role in Gadhafi's government, because, as she puts it, we care about our reputations. Now, Besh Iman says women have had successful roles in the revolution, and that has helped prepare them for the next step.
IQRAM ABU BESH IMAN: Because now, we have confidence in free Libya. We have confidence about people. Since we have educated women, since we have active women, there will be a lot of women in the election.
FLINTOFF: When those elections will be held is still uncertain. The Transitional National Council is still struggling to form an interim government. A list of candidates for various cabinet posts was leaked to the news media last week. And though the council insists that it was only tentative, it did include the names of three prominent women. More and more Libyan women are saying that is not enough. Corey Flintoff, NPR News.
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