12/10/2014 12:13 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

Letter to the Libyan Nation

Waheed Burshan was an important figure in the Libyan war of liberation. Supported by France, Britain, and the United States, that war ended with Gaddafi's defeat in the fall of 2011. Schooled in the United States, trained in American universities, and having spent most of his professional career in Chicago, he is considered "pro-western" on the Libyan political scene. Above all, however, he is a new actor, tied to none of the entrenched factions. Here, he launches an urgent appeal for dialogue and national reconciliation.


My name is Waheed Burshan; I am Libyan.

After spending the Gaddafi years in exile in the United States, I joined at its outset in February 2011 the democratic revolution that was to free Libya from 40 years of tyranny.

Trained as an engineer, I worked with others in the first liberated areas of the country to disrupt the dictator's communications systems and paralyze the armed columns that he had ordered to attack his own people.

I also contributed to the creation of an air bridge designed to supply weapons from abroad to the rebellions in Jebel Nafusa and the Zintan region.

The revolution triumphed in autumn 2011 with the aid of several friendly countries, foremost among them France and the United States. At last, the future seemed open: fraternity, liberty, and prosperity would reign; we were united.

Three years after our liberation, my heart bleeds.

Torn apart, I witness the destruction of those hopes and the division of our beautiful country.

With my fellow citizens, I eye with trepidation the looming fratricidal war, the approaching chaos, the ruined and paralyzed economy.

With my brothers in Tripoli and Misrata, in Benghazi and Tobruk, in Zintan and Jebel Nafusa, I know that none of the present forces can hope on its own to prevail and that, at the end of this process, if nothing stops the race to the abyss, there can be only defeat for us all and the crushing of our hopes.

Will we give that satisfaction to the enemies of the revolution, to those nostalgic for the dictatorship, to those who conclude from the current chaos that Gaddafi had his good side and that at least Libya's house was held together?

Will we stand by and watch the posthumous triumph of the man who ruined the country and who, through bloody repression over decades, prepared the ground for the partisans of terrorism and the enemies of peace?

What can be done by the men and women of good will who, from one end of the country to the other, refuse to resign themselves to that fate? What steps must we take if we do not want to see the revolutionary dream dissolve into a nightmare?

Initiatives have been launched from outside the country but so far have failed to break the deadlock.

The United Nations is doing its best but will never be able to make decisions that must be made by Libyans themselves.

I belong to no political party and am not on any side in this conflict.

I have but one allegiance--and that is to a united and indivisible Libya.

I belong to the silent majority that is fed up with division and that believes that Libya is and should remain one nation.

And I have joined with other members of that majority, men and women of good will without partisan attachments, to launch an appeal to the conflicting parties to sit down at the negotiating table.

We have sent messages to all of the present political and military forces, without exception, to invite them to reflect and reconsider, to put their problems on the table, and to remember that what unites them is greater than what separates them.

We have invited them all to a meeting of reconciliation. That meeting should be held in a country that is not involved in supporting any of the opposing forces and factions. France, the friendly country par excellence, would appear to be an obvious choice.

For peace to be restored, each party will have to abandon a piece of its dream of power, put aside some share of its beliefs and convictions, and, most important, renounce the negation of others by either force or law.

For peace to be restored, for this great nation of six million people and immense resources that borders six countries and enjoys 1,900 kilometers of Mediterranean coast, this country where all could have their fair share, there is no solution except compromise, no viable outcome except mutual tolerance, no positive future except one achieved by sharing our common wealth and closing our development gap, no workable formula except a democratic system with a modern constitution that takes into account the unique characteristics of the country.

For peace to be restored and an end put to the suicide of our nation, for peace to be restored without it being imposed by this or that foreign power with its own agenda, a peace imposed at the end of a gun, Libyans and Libyans alone must agree on a just compromise in which we all--I will say it again--give up some measure of our aspirations and goals.
The choice is that or chaos.

The choice is broad national dialogue, disintegration on the model of Somalia, or the return of tyranny under cover of a return to order.

This appeal is addressed to all Libyans of conscience.

This message is meant for all who believe in the Libyan nation, a nation that the dictatorship devastated, divided, and pitted against itself, a nation that, in our dreams, was to give birth to the revolution.

There is still time.

Not much time, but hopefully just enough.

With the military conflagration that, as I write, ravages the eastern and western ends of my country the last windows of opportunity for dialogue threaten to close--but all is not lost if all sides can agree, with the help of friendly countries, to come together and reconsider their course.