It was Libya in 1973, and Muammar Gaddafi had decided that some American and British college professors were persona non grata.

David Mize was one of those professors who spoke Arabic and had highly placed friends. He was summoned to the police station and an officer asked for a favor.

Mize: “‘What is it,’ I said. ‘We can’t find the key for the police car we were going to use to take you to the airport. Would you mind getting a cab?’”

Mize told that story of his “ignominious” departure from Libya at a special meeting of the Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations on April 27 at Point Lookout in Northport.

He described 2,000 years of Libyan history from the Phoenician colonies to the Gaddafi coup in 1969. As a professor at University of Libya, he sent the first Libyan graduate students to the United States to study. Mize spent five years in Jerusalem working with the Palestinian universities, and taught at the American University in Cairo until he retired.

[Mize noted the extensive news coverage of Libya. Three days after his speech, a NATO airstrike that reportedly killed the son and several grandchildren of Gaddafi was a lead story for many news organizations.]

Some of Mize’s speech covered the current turmoil in the region, where a civil war is being fought by Gaddafi’s Tripoli-based government, which controls the western part of the country, and Benghazi-based rebels that control the eastern part of the country. He also shared his views on the U.S. position.

“We cannot make promises, we cannot encourage countries to experiment with democracy when we’re not going to support them,” Mize said.

He cited a U.S. veto in the UN Security Council on condemning continued West Bank settlements. “Fourteen people voted in favor of it, we vetoed it,” Mize said. “Three weeks later we go to the Security Council and ask them to pass a no-fly resolution over Libya. We can’t have it both ways.”

In the question period, Mize was asked about Gaddafi’s social and economic support. He said it is the military, the army, and to a limited degree, the tribe. “The economic support is that he has the combination to the safe,” Mize said. “The amount of money he has collected from American and other oil companies is unbelievable. And he’s used it for all sorts of nefarious activities. He’s financed attempts at coups, assassinations.”

Mize was asked about the future of Libya. “The focal point is that in the tribe there is no government, there is no state. Decisions, solutions and dealings are often circumstantial. I think that what would happen is there are enough educated Libyans who would come back or who are there who would get together and form some kind of a government. I think there will always be this problem of a tribal affiliation.”

Mize said the rebels could form a new government but would have to include representatives of Tripolitania in the northwest, along with Cyrenaica in the east. If that doesn’t happen, there is the possibility of a division of the country. He cited Sudan as a place where this has been “reasonably successfully achieved, reasonably democratically.”

In his discussion of the country’s history, he noted that “Libya was a term used to describe all of North Africa.”

“It wasn’t until more recent times that the current breakdown into four different countries along the North African coast came into use,” Mize said.

Since leaving in 1973, Mize hasn’t returned to Libya. “If this plays out so I can, I will definitely go back there,” Mize said. “I know that the children of many of the people I helped send to the United States [to study] will be the people who are active in the revolution. We cannot continue to encourage people to move toward democracy and then not support them when they do.”

The Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations has been meeting since the mid-1980s to discuss international affairs. For more information, visit midcoastforum.org.