By Patrick Calvert
In February of 2011 the Arab Spring — a series of protests, riots and civil wars that swept throughout the Arab world — came to Libya with demonstrations that quickly turned into a rebellion against Gaddafi and his 42-year-old rule.
Adel Farag, a Ball State graduate student studying geology, joined the rebels shortly after the revolution started.
Farag was born in Brega City, Libya, where his dad worked for an oil company. Throughout elementary and high school, he said he never thought about the Gaddafi regime or how to enact change in the country.
He said he had a normal childhood, like anyone else’s. He recalled going to school, looking forward to the weekend and visiting his grandparents.
“Everything was normal,” Farag said.
The Libyan revolution started on Feb. 15, 2011, just two weeks after Farag graduated from the University of Benghazi with an undergraduate degree in geology.
He said he started hearing rumors that people were going to go and protest for better salaries, prison reforms and government reforms.
“[The Gaddafi regime] started to shoot and fire at people after the second or third day; this made people get more and more angry,” Farag said.
Farag himself started thinking about joining the rebels for humanitarian reasons.
“You see people die every day, you see your country break down because of something,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the [reason is], you need to do something, you need to help.”
After Farag made sure his family was safe in Benghazi, he joined the rebels as a driver. His job was to transport food, water, medicine and weapons to the frontline, along with taking injured and dead rebels to hospitals.
The rebel driver’s first trip to the frontline was to a small city that regime forces were trying to control. It was an important city due to an oil company being based there.
“They talked to my leader by radio, they told him that they had two injured guys and they needed somebody to come inside [the city] to take them to the hospital,” Farag said.
His commander went with him to make sure he got there and back OK.
“That was my first time [I went to the frontline]. The second time was when I got injured,” Farag said.
When he arrived that second time, he said he overheard a rebel fighter say he could see the Gaddafi fighters.
Farag asked the rebel if he could look through the rebel fighter’s telescope to see Gaddafi’s forces. This was the closest he had ever been to regime forces.
“Then something went ‘boom,'” he said. “Dust and ash [were everywhere], and then I couldn’t see anything, and I passed out and woke up in the hospital.”
A rocket-propelled grenade had hit the building beside him, and shrapnel hit Farag.
After only a short period of time in the hospital, with only minor injuries, Farag was able to get back out on the field.
On another supply run, Farag traveled in a convoy to bring supplies to the rebels fighting on the frontline. His convoy traveled throughout the night to get to their destination, but he said it wasn’t easy.
While driving, Farag started to hear NATO warplanes flying near them. Shortly after, he saw bombs being dropped about a mile away from the convoy.
The convoy of trucks stopped and the drivers left their vehicles to try to get in contact with their commanders so they could get in contact with NATO.
“To tell NATO to do something, you need 25 to 40 minutes,” Farag said. “You have to talk to your operation station and your operation station has to talk to an office, like the one in Benghazi. The office then has to send a message to NATO, who are in the Mediterranean. Then [NATO officials] give the orders to the [NATO warplanes] to stop.”
Farag said at the time, he was mostly worried that they would be mistaken for Gaddafi forces.
The commander in the convoy finally got an answer back from higher command that everything was fine and the convoy could keep going.
Farag said he asked his commander, “Are you sure? We can keep going? Nothing will happen to us?”
His commander told him it was all clear.
The Ball State graduate student could hardly describe how scary the situation was.
“It was just horrible,” he said.
Transporting supplies to the frontline was Farag’s main job, but he also was responsible for transporting dead rebels and bringing them back to the hospital.
“The first time [I had to pick up dead rebels], I was surprised. [There was] a lot of blood, and a lot of people died. ‘What am I doing here?’” Farag remembers thinking. “Day by day [I started] to adapt to the situation.”
Farag lost a lot of friends during the revolution, but he doesn’t blame any particular group. He said that whole year of his life was just “messed up.”
“You sit and talk to your friend, and you discuss anything and he will say, ‘I am going [to the frontline],’ and within two or three hours they will tell you that your friend died,” Farag said.
On Oct. 20, 2011, the rebels were successful. They killed Gaddafi in the coastal city of Sirte.
Farag found out about Gaddafi’s death the same day. He was in a camp sleeping when his friend started to shake him.
Farag said he remembered everyone just being surprised.
After Gaddafi was killed, Farag went back to Benghazi to work as a teacher’s assistant. One day he received a call from an old leader who wanted to know if he could work in security.
People were worried about landmines that Gaddafi’s army had placed. Eventually, the landmines were collected and the plan was to blow them all up. People were going to come out and watch the explosion, so Farag decided to help keep people from getting too close.
Militias started to form after Gaddafi’s death as well, and Farag had an opportunity to join one, but declined the offer.
“If everybody went back to their position, went back to their school, went back to their job, our country right now would be better and amazing,” Farag said.
After the revolution, Farag had an opportunity to study abroad.
“The government decided to give the top students a scholarship to study abroad, and I was one of the top students in the department,” he said.
The teacher’s assistant originally chose Canada, but after talking to his father, he decided to study in America. At that point, Ball State University wasn’t even an idea in his head. Farag ended up studying at an English institute in Houston for a year.
A friend of Farag’s was studying in America and mentioned an opportunity to study at Ball State. A professor was looking for someone to do some research work with her.
Farag booked a ticket to Muncie and met with the professor. He decided he wanted to go to Ball State but there was one problem — Ball State rejected his application to study in the graduate program because of his English exam score.
He talked to the professor and she told him to apply again for the fall semester, but Farag was rejected again. He applied for the spring semester and finally got accepted in 2016.
He thinks Ball State is an “amazing university,” but he also likes Muncie and its community.
“People are so friendly,” the Libya native said.
Farag also likes the location of Muncie because it’s not far from Indianapolis and Chicago.
“The location of Indiana in general, in the Midwest — everything is so close,” Farag said.
The Ball State student is currently working on his thesis project and is expected to graduate in the fall of 2017. He plans to go back to Libya after he graduates.
“I will go back to Libya because it’s my country first of all, my family is there, and I have to be a part of rebuilding my country,” Farag said.
He also wants to influence students in Libya to pursue master’s degrees and study abroad.
“I can benefit my community over there,” he said. “I can give them what I’m learning right now. I can give the positive things I’m seeing in America.”
Farag doesn’t know what to expect in the future, but he believes it’s up to the natives in his country.
“It depends on the Libyans. Our future will be great if people sit down together and decide to have no outside influence. We [need to] sit together and talk together,” Farag said. “By sitting together, we can make our country great again.”
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