“Why have they sent him” asked, rhetorically, a French friend of mine in Benghazi. Thousands of Libyans had assembled on the city’s corniche, a sea of red-black-green tricolours of independence waving—dotted with the French tricolore and the occasional Qatari flag—prior to Bernard-Henri Lévy’s appearance on stage.
Earlier in the day in the Ouzu hotel, which has become the media nest in Benghazi, a Libyan was asking me what phrases would be suitable for the French philosopher’s visit, pondering links between the storming of the Bastille and Libya’s own revolution.
Several hours later, amid the banners in flowing Arabic script, there were placards grateful for the foreign intervention (“Merci France / Thank you Cameron / Thank you Obama / Thank you United Nations”), and welcoming the Frenchman to Libya “en cours de libération”. Another reminded the world that “Libya is not [a] kingdom for Gaddafi’s sons [to] inherit”.
Dusk was setting-in as BHL, full of gall, took to the stage. His speech certainly rallied the spirits of the Libyans assembled before him, if not, I found, a little too self-congratulatory. Amid talk of why he would “risk his life” in Ajdabiya, France was the first country to offer their support to the Libyans, and Benghazi was now a global symbol of resistance, he said.
At a moment when people seem to be losing their morale, wondering why it is taking so long to oust Col. Gaddafi, it is this kind of boost that they need, whatever it happens to come wrapped-in.