It was 20 years ago that I left my hometown, Tripoli, in search of refuge. Colonel Gaddafi's security apparatus had the country in an iron grip; the eyes of its agents were everywhere. No one was safe. I have lived in many countries since, dedicating all my efforts to one objective: the overthrow of the dictatorship in order to bring about real change in our country. A change that would guarantee a dignified life, freedom and justice.
It was clear to me by the end of the 80s that it was impossible to bring about change in a country whose ruler does not believe in plurality of opinion, will not allow a peaceful transition of power, and forces his people to live on low incomes despite the country's wealth. Those in opposition faced all kinds of repression. Even the right to religious freedom was violated – saying prayers in the mosques could land one in prison. Faced with this reality, there was no option but to resort to arms, and I and others founded the .
Gaddafi used every means to suppress our uprising, including the aerial bombardment of the in the 90s after some of our youth fled to the mountains. Then came 9/11, which we condemned as an outrage that contradicted our Islamic faith. America reacted ferociously, like a wounded lion wanting revenge not only on its enemy but on all Islamists.
Our organisation was classified as a terrorist organisation by both the US and the UK, while the Gaddafi regime was welcomed back into the fold of the international community after it reached an agreement with the governments of George Bush and Tony Blair. The relationship developed to the point of intelligence and security co-operation at the highest level. One of the fruits of this co-operation was by CIA agents after I was apprehended in Thailand. Documents recently recovered from the office of the former head of the Libyan foreign intelligence service, Mousa Kousa, confirmed that the MI6 were also involved.
I spent seven years in prison, where I was tortured. I engaged in negotiations with the Libyan regime as a result of which my group renounced violence on the understanding that we would participate in a process of reform. I was released in 2010, but there was no sign of reform. Meanwhile, the people's dissatisfaction with the regime grew daily. With the start of the Arab spring, the conditions were set for the Libyan people to start their uprising.
The revolution hoped to achieve its aims peacefully. But Gaddafi was prepared to exterminate his people in order to remain in power, so the Libyan people were forced to take up arms. My initial view that it was impossible to change the Gaddafi regime except by force was vindicated. While Tripoli and several cities in the west and south remained under Gaddafi's control, Libyans in the east planted the seeds of a new political order through the formation of the National Transitional Council.
Our uprising marked a historic turning point; we had waited a long time and made many sacrifices for it. I remember my friends and comrades in struggle whom the Gaddafi regime killed, and the many martyrs of our people who had refused to submit to the regime's oppression and its security agencies. The spirit of these heroes continues to remind us constantly of the need to attain justice in and avoid betraying the ultimate sacrifices that they made. I recall the 1,200 martyrs whom the Gaddafi regime killed in cold blood in Abu Salim prison in 1996 in a matter of three hours. Their only crime was that they demanded their basic rights and improvement of their condition in prison.
After the outstanding early successes of our revolution, the regime tried to restore the balance of power and absorb the initial shock that befell it. Gaddafi imposed a blockade of Tripoli knowing that the final battle would be decided in the capital; and that his control of it would enable him to stay in power. Our people experienced great hardship as the most basic necessities of life became non-existent. Tripoli felt as if it was under a foreign occupation.
Meanwhile, we began preparations for the . Revolutionaries within Tripoli captured strategic installations and we, coming from outside, undertook the decisive operations to win the battle. Now the Gaddafi regime has fallen. The country is destroyed and a great challenge awaits us: to rebuild it and establish a political system that guarantees the participation of all shades of political opinion.
The first step of this process was the formation of a transitional government as was declared in the provisional constitution announced by the NTC. That will lead to the elections for the first national assembly and the writing of a constitution, which can then be presented to the Libyan people in a referendum.
One of the most serious challenges facing us is how to repair the rifts Gaddafi created within Libyan society. Only a transparent political system can establish a democratic government that will ensure the participation of all Libyans. We must resist attempts by some Libyan politicians to exclude some of the participants in the revolution. They are unable to see the huge risks of such exclusion, or the serious nature of the reaction of the excluded parties.
After what we have suffered under Gaddafi, we are determined not to allow any individual or entity to monopolise the management of the country lest it lead to a rebirth of a new dictatorship.
We are grateful for the role played by the international community in protecting the Libyan people; Libyans will never forget those who were our friends at this critical stage and will endeavour to build closer relations with those states on the basis of our mutual respect and common interests. However, the future of Libya is for the Libyans alone to decide. We cannot compromise on sovereignty or allow others to interfere in our internal affairs, position themselves as guardians of our revolution or impose leaders who do not represent a national consensus.
There is room in Libya for the various parties and political persuasions to be represented, and Libyans must be allowed to listen to diverse opinions so they can decide who they want to elect to lead the country in the next stage. What worries us is the attempt of some secular elements to isolate and exclude others. Libya's Islamists have announced their commitment to democracy; despite this, some reject their participation and call for them to be marginalised. It is as though they want to push Islamists towards a non-democratic option by alienating and marginalising them. We will not allow this: all Libyans are partners in this revolution and all should be part of building the future of this country.
My dream of overthrowing Gaddafi has been realised. But I and all Libyans share a new dream: to build our country and make it a politically, economically and socially advanced civil state. Then our revolution will have achieved its ideals and our country can become a dynamic player among the family of nations. I have no doubt the dream will become reality, despite the obstacles.