Ilham Dabboub

"Dad's body was left hanging for eight hours. Traffic was diverted to force people to drive past his body."

Nursery head Ilham Dabboub had a difficult childhood. She was three years old when her father, Omar Ali Dabboub, was first imprisoned in 1973. “He was a warm man with intellect and opinions. He didn’t want power, he wanted elections. The demands of my father, and those who struggled alongside him, where the same as our demands during the revolution of 2011.”

By 1973, the Libyan people expected a constitution to be in place. “There was nothing, Libya was floating. The people demanded structure, law, institutions, a constitution. My father was a student at the time and the student union was formed of intellectuals. Gaddafi did not like that.”

Ilham Dabboub’s father was arrested and imprisoned repeatedly between 1973 and 1977, during his years as a student of law in Benghazi. “My dad spent time in almost all of Libya’s prisons. I remember once visiting him at the Kwefya prison here in Benghazi. I also remember seeing him when he returned home one day in early 1976. He couldn’t walk. Two guards carried him in, and four others accompanied them. They had come to search the house. I saw him clearly and remember it clearly still.”

His ribs were broken and nails pulled out. “His ribs were broken until the day they hanged him on 7 April 1977. A military tribunal, immune from appeal, reviewed the case in Tripoli, despite the law not allowing for civilians to be tried militarily. It was a show trial and led to a black day for Libya, and many more hangings followed.”

Omar Dabboub was hanged near the Benghazi coast at the Socialist Union Square, named after the offices then housed within the cathedral there. The square has since been renamed the Two Martyrs’ Square, in reference to Dabboub and his colleague and friend Mohamed Bin Saud, another teacher who was hanged there on the same day.

Dabboub’s body was left hanging for eight hours for all to see. Traffic was diverted to ensure all people had to drive past the body. “He succeeded in instilling fear, that was his goal. My father understood Gaddafi’s mentality. An old cellmate of his recently told me how my father predicted all the sentences the night before they were handed down. He knew he and uncle Mohamed would be sentenced to death, he predicted that everyone else would be imprisoned for life and he even predicted that one of them would be found innocent. He understood Gaddafi, and that’s why he had to die.”

Ilham Dabboub and her mother attended some parts of the trial in Tripoli. That was when she last saw her father, if only briefly and from a distance. “As soon as the sentence was handed down, my father and uncle Mohamed were taken to Benghazi and hanged. There was no public announcement, and we were not informed. We found out the next day. They didn’t even give us his body or tell us where he was buried; we had to go and ask around until we found his grave.”

Libyans traditionally erect tents in the street outside their homes during a funeral. It is an open invitation for anyone to come and offer their condolences. “We were denied a funeral. And those who visited our home over the coming days to comfort my mother were always fearful. It was an atrocious position for us to be in.”

After their father’s execution, Ilham Dabboub and her three younger siblings were not allowed to use their family name on any of their documents or certificates. Instead, their father and grandfather’s first names would be suffixed to theirs. The children lived in a house with their mother. “The authorities kept harassing us. They tried repeatedly to take our home, saying it was unnecessarily big for us. They didn’t promote my mother at work in the way she normally would have been. They didn’t pay anything towards my father’s social security or pension. They prevented my sister from studying law at university.”

Dabboub’s younger sister had been keen to follow in the footsteps of their father and so registered at the faculty of law in Benghazi. Two months later the university received orders from Tripoli banning her from the faculty. “Gaddafi feared most the students and the workers.”


This interview was recorded
at her home in Benghazi
on 12 April, 2013


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