I was born in the area of Al Ouwila, 16 km east of Al Marj, in Al Jabal Akhdar (the Green Mountains) in 1921.
In 1911, the Italian Army landed on the Libyan coasts and invaded the country. At that time Omar Al Mukhtar was in Jalo Oasis teaching students the Holy Qur’an in one of the centers built all over Libya by the finest Al Snoussi, Mohamed Ali Al Snoussi the Great, the grandfather of King Idris.
They were called zawaya (singular – zawiya). When Omar Al Mukhtar heard that the Italians had invaded the country he returned quickly to the zawiya of Al Qusur, near Al Marj, and started to recruit fighters for freedom from different tribes.
In 1923 he went to Egypt asking for aid, military supplies and food. During his stay in Egypt one Italian agent tried to bribe him to surrender but he refused, preferring to return to Libya to fight.
When the Italians occupied most of the oases – Jagboub, Jalo, Oujela and Fazan – Omar Al Mukhtar was isolated in Al Jabal Akhdar and surrounded by the Italians. But he was not captured, his hands were never tied, so he started attacking the Italian army present in Derna and the surrounding area. The Italian army came out from Derna and there was a big battle that lasted for two days. The victory went to Omar Al Mukhtar’s side and the Italian army was defeated, leaving behind its destroyed cannons, cars, boxes of ammunition and animals as it retreated.
1924 and 1925 were very important years in the life of Omar Al Mukhtar, often called Sheikh Lion in those times, because he was the commander of all the fighters for freedom, and he united all the tribes. The name of Omar Al Mukhtar became famous as a masterful leader. But on September 11, 1931, the Sheikh of the Martyrs was arrested by the Italians while he was fighting on his horse. They brought him to Benghazi, with chained hands and legs, to meet the Italian commander General Rodolfo Graziani.
The General asked Omar Al Mukhtar: “Are you fighting for Al Snouism?” Al Snouism was a religious movement known throughout the Arab world. Omar Al Mukhtar answered: “I am fighting you because of my country and my religion”. Then the General asked another question: “You have authority for most of the Libyans and you can order the rebels to surrender and to finish the war?” Omar Al Mukhtar answered with a statement that is very famous even till this day: “We do not surrender. We win or we die.”
The Italians decided to try him in a military court but the decision to hang him was made before the court met. On September 16, 1931, in the town of Sloug, they put the rope around the neck of Sheikh Omar Al Mukhtar and hung him until he was dead. But even a dead Omar Al Mukhtar was respected by his enemy: the officer in charge of the hanging saluted his lifeless body. In his book “Cyrenaica Pacified” (published in Italy in 1932 as “Cirenaica pacificata”, and in Libya in 1998 as “Barqah al-hādi’ah”), General Graziani wrote that the Sheikh of the Martyrs was confident, intelligent, educated, a true believer, and a man whom he admired.
At that time I was with my family in Egypt where we went in 1927. My father took us there so that he could dedicate himself fully to fighting for the freedom of Libya. I was ten years old when we, and all the European and Arabic countries, received the news about the execution of my father. We returned home in 1945. I joined the Libyan Army because there was no other job apart from those in the army; but as soon as I got a chance I left the army.
I worked as a mayor of the Jardas area, 30km from Al Marj, from 1949 to 1951 and as a mayor of the area of Al Marj from 1952 to 1955. After that I was wrongfully fired so I started a business of my own through rising cattle and farming. I was married to Al Haja Fatma Gheryani Muftah and my second wife was Al Haja Azza Feyumi Abdelgader. Both of them are from the Al Mukhtar family. I have no children and this is God’s will. My mother, Wanisa Abdalla Al Jeylani, was from the Al Jeylani tribe from Misurata and my father Omar Al Mukhtar was from the Al Mnafa tribe living near Tobruk and his family was the family Breidan Al Farhat.
I was among the first supporters of the February 17 Revolution. I went to the Courthouse, the symbol of the revolution in Benghazi, on February 19, 2011. I went twice to the front lines to support the Freedom Fighters and to raise their morale. When they saw me they remembered my father, Omar Al Mukhtar, and his heroism, so they were very happy to see me among them. They asked me to read with them Sura-Al Fatiha (the Holy Qur’an), and the takbir was heard more and more among them.
I supported the revolution because the tyrant was unjust to our people and he put down Libyans and their symbols of the struggle for freedom, such as Omar Al Mukhtar. He tried to erase the knowledge of Omar Al Mukhtar from Libyan history by removing his grave from the center of Benghazi. It was a great pleasure for me when they brought back the remains of the hero Omar Al Mukhtar to the same place to be one of the symbols of the February 17 Revolution.
I hope that the Libyan people will be united and that this revolution will be successful. I was satisfied with NATO for the support they gave the Freedom Fighters. I offer special acknowledgments to all the friendly Western and Arabic countries that helped the Libyan people, especially Qatar.
I confirm that the February 17 Revolution is a true people’s revolution, an uprising against injustice and dictatorship. It is a revolution blessed by God and carried out with God’s will.
Al Haj Mohamed Omar Al Mukhtar visiting Freedom Fighters in the front lines at Ajdabiyah and Brega
The delegation “Symbols of the Revolution”, headed by Al Haj Mohamed Omar Al Mukhtar, visits the front near Ajdabiyah, Libya, on July 02 2011
Omar Al Mukhtar — a symbol of the fight for freedom in Libya
His famous words
We do not surrender.
We win or we die!
were a motto for Libyan thuwar, and many Syrian freedom fighters have adopted it, too.
These photos of Omar Al Mukhtar, the Sheikh of the Martyrs, show supporters surrounding him after a victory against Libya’s Italian occupier …
… his trial during September 11-14, 1931 …
… and his death by hanging on September 16, 1931:
They are reproduced by courtesy of his nephew Mukhtar Ahmed Al Mukhtar, who was with the 2011 protestors from the first day of the uprising in Benghazi.
By Saturday, February 19, 2011, fear and uncertainty about how the uprising was going to end were great among the protestors in Benghazi in spite of their determination not to give up.
Abdalla Al Senussi was still inside the katiba which had not yet fallen, and the lijan tawriya had done their utmost to try
to demoralize protestors.
Omar Al Mukhtar has remained a hero and a symbol of the fight for freedom in Libya, so Al Haj Mohamed joined
the protestors at the Benghazi Courthouse as a reminder of his father’s ideals and determination not to give up. He
stayed with the protestors from 11am to 5pm.
The clock shown below is typical of items available in the new Libya now free of the tyrannies of the ousted regime. It features the Libyan flag, Omar Al Mukhtar’s photo, and his words:
“We do not surrender. We win or we die.”