A Libyan-Irish dual national, Mahdi al-Harati is a member of Ireland’s Libyan community, one of several who are aiding the rebel forces in their bid to oust Muammar Gaddaffi in the nation's capital of Tripoli.
Married to an Irish woman, Harati is the commander in chief of the Tripoli revolutionary brigade. Based in a small city close to Libya’s border, he told the Irish Times it was hard to leave his family behind in Ireland.
“It wasn’t easy to leave behind my wife and children, but I couldn’t stay in Dublin while my people were struggling for freedom in my native country. It is a decision I don’t regret and I am sure my family supports me on this,” he says.
The 38-year-old was born in Tripoli but loved to Ireland almost two decades ago. He married the Irish-born daughter of a Libyan father and an Irish mother. The couple have four children, ranging in age from 18 months to nine years.
Before his return to Tripoli, he worked as an Arabic teacher in Dublin, a career that offered him “great joy” he says.
After the uprising began, Harati decided to leave his home in Ireland and travel to the eastern city of Benghazi in Libya, to join the forces. In the city he joined his Irish-born brother-in-law Husan al-Najar (32) who had returned to Libya for a wedding.
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The pair decided they would organize a brigade, their aim was to enter and secure Tripoli and expel Gadafy and his followers.
“We are from there. It’s our town and no one knows it better than us,” Harati told the Irish Times.
“The idea was to create a well-organized group that could fight in the western provinces of the country,” he says. “There is no ideology [behind the group]; we are purely revolutionaries.”
They gathered together 15 highly educated men, with extensive skills and expertise. Once their idea of a new group was approved by the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, recruits started pouring in. They underwent basic military training and today the Tripoli revolutionary brigade has some 570 men in their ranks, among them doctors, business men, mechanics and web designers.
“It is important to understand that we are all civilians. We are not the military,” he told the Irish Times.
“When we started we knew this would take a long time. Even after Gadafy is gone Libya will experience instability for some time,” he explained.
“Dublin has been my home for a long time now. My wife is Irish and my children have a great affection for the country. Ireland will always be part of us,” he concluded.