Tawfik Bensaud leading a pro-democracy protest in Benghazi
When he was 15, Libyan student Tawfik Bensaud began organizing social media campaigns and street protests in Benghazi in pursuit of democracy for his country. His activism included youtube videos urging people to vote, launching peaceful protests for democracy and improved security, and promoting free speech online. The young activist was unafraid of the threats against him and the violence surrounding him. He even lost his father and his home to the chaos that had engulfed Libya, yet he still carried on.
Last September, when Tawfik was 18, he was shot and killed in an attack by suspected Islamist militants who wanted his voice silenced. His best friend and fellow activist, Sami El-Kawafy, was also killed.
Libyans mourned the devastating loss of two bright young people who wanted to change their country for the better. The senseless murders, part of a very violent several days in Benghazi at the end of September, were decried internationally. Human Rights Watch called it a potential crime against humanity. In times like these, the easiest and most obvious option seems to turn to hate and revenge, to give up on peace. But Tawfik’s friends, and every young Libyan on social media who shared his ideals, found another way to react to the deaths, and it was born where Tawfik’s ideas had formerly taken flight: social media.
WATCH: BBC – Libya’s Hashtags of Hope
In a move of defiance, those carrying on Tawfik’s vision created the #IAmTawfik campaign, described on its twitter page as “a daring, peaceful message to all those who kill our dreams.” You can find the hashtag all over Twitter, as thousands have come out in solidarity, taking pictures of themselves holding signs that read “#IAmTawfik” both to mourn the loss and to continue his fight.
The #IAmTawfik Facebook page has almost 10,000 likes. The Libyan Youth Movement, which has over 159,000 twitter followers, tweeted “Nothing will deter those using their voices against violence #IAmTawfik #Libya.” Libyan diplomat Loay Omran tweeted, “You have to understand something… Every day a new Tawfik is born in #Libya. #IAmTawfiq #Benghazi.” Colin Townson from the Canadian Embassy in Libya tweeted, “#IAmTawfik because freedom of expression and freedom from are fear are essential to democracy.” An #IAmTawfik solidarity event was even organized in London, and featured youth activists, politicians, and a major news channel editor as some of the speakers. Find out more about it and read excerpts of the speeches from the event at Libyan Youth Voices.
Tawfik’s cousin, Houda el-Khoja, now lives in London and actively works on the #IAmTawfik campaign, continuing to spread its message from abroad. “Are you doing all of this because you miss him?” a reporter asks her in a video about Tawfik published by the BBC this week. “Absolutely I miss him,” replies Houda, her voice a bit shaky. “I miss him and I love him so much. His voice was strong while he was alive, and it’s even stronger now.”
Online intimidation continues, but activists have been combatting it with their hashtag of hope despite increased fighting and assassinations in the country. Tawfik’s death was not in vain. His dedication to democracy and human rights succeeded in inspiring so many others to carry on his message. So whenever you think of a hashtag, remember that it has more power than we realize—it is keeping the memory of a young democracy hero alive whose vision of a free and peaceful future cannot be stopped.
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