x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Jalil takes centre stage at star-studded charity football event

Chairman of Libya's interim government attends UAE charity football match to raise funds for injured Libyan children.

Interim Libyan president Mustafa Abdul Jalil speaks to the crowd at the Friends of Libya's Children charity football match at Al Ahli Stadium.
Interim Libyan president Mustafa Abdul Jalil speaks to the crowd at the Friends of Libya's Children charity football match at Al Ahli Stadium.

DUBAI // Hundreds of Libyans, some of whom were draped in the country's new colours, cheered and chanted as Mustafa Abdel Jalil made his way down to the football pitch at the end of The All Stars Charity Football Match, which included legendary players Hernan Crespo and Pavel Nedved.

The game on Tuesday night was delayed by more than 40 minutes at half time so Mr Jalil, the chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) could arrive at the end of the game, played at Al Ahli's grounds, to greet some of the players and meet Libyan expatriates living in Dubai.

He made a short speech from the centre of the pitch after a fan draped the new flag around him. The chairman of the interim government thanked the crowd, which waited until nearly midnight to see him, for their help on behalf of the Libyan community.

The match was organised to raise funds for children injured in the fighting in Libya.

The UAE played a high-profile role during the conflict, with officials from the NTC using the country as a base to raise funds and awareness about their cause.

It also set up several refugee camps on the borders of Egypt and Tunisia to provide humanitarian aid to thousands of people fleeing the violence.

"Its' a wonderful surprise. We are very grateful and thankful to the UAE and all the things they've done for us in the last few months," said Youwef Zoubi, a Libyan who was at the game.

He said he did not think he would wake up on Tuesday morning to see the new leader of his country, yet he heard rumours that the new head of state of the caretaker government might be at the game.

"Then we got confirmation he'd be here during the game and we got really excited," said Mr Zoubi, 28, who works in the oil industry.

"It's great to see him come here and surprise and all the fans. You've pretty much got the whole Libyan community here," he added.

Suliman Gaouda, 20, from Benghazi, said it was great night for him and his countrymen living in the UAE.

"Oh man, it was so unexpected," he said while jumping up and down to the backdrop of bongo drums and chanting.

"It was such a surprise and to see all the Libyans here, it's an amazing experience," said Mr Gaouda, a student.

After the game, around 300 Libyans waited outside the stadium to get one more look at Mr Jalil in the zone usually reserved for football fans to get players' autographs.

"This is a man who walks the streets. He has ruled, he has been just and can walk without fear. We'd all die for him," said Mr Gaouda with the flag around his shoulders.

 

A student from Libya, Alaa Kubban, 19, was equally caught up in the crowd's enthusiasm.

"It's awesome he came here. He is our new leader of the people and he is now the force of hope because at certain times we lost hope but he kept us believing," she said.

Masaoud Al Hotmani, 29. said he was expecting Mr Jalil to turn up but could not believe he was able to see him.

"To see him for the first time was an exciting thing for me and we are really hoping for a lot from him to bring out country to the safe side."

eharnan@thenational.ae