5 Inspirational Libyan NGOs and Civil Society Groups

There are quite a lot of people gleefully declaring that Libya is a lost cause. “Whelp, that revolution was a pretty bad idea, huh?” they’ll smirk. And while a large part of you wants to slap the smugness off their face, deep down inside you know that Libya is indeed looking bleaker by the day. With Tripoli International Airport blown to smithereens and a political schism deepening the fault lines in the country, one can only wonder with trepidation what the future holds for Libya. 

However, while militias and politicians are in the limelight, there are groups in Libya working behind the scenes trying to keep the pieces of the fractured country together. I wanted to highlight my favorite ones here, as a salute to the work they’re doing. 

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Barbary sheep, know as ‘Waddan’ in Libya, one of the endangered animals the Wildlife trust advocates for (Source: Facebook)

5. Libyan Wildlife Trust (الجمعية الليبية لحماية الحياة البرية والبحرية

What I love about this organization is the focus they’re putting on a very ignored aspect of Libya; it’s wildlife and environment. Libya has some amazing animals, but we also have a very limited mentality when it comes to taking care of them A lot of illegal poaching goes on in Libya’s deserts, and it’s this organization that’s working towards ending these practices. 

They’ve also organized campaigns like free veterinary check-ups, asking people to set up water bowls for birds in the summer, and seminars on wildlife and environmental awareness. And even if you can’t actively participate in their events, you can go on their page and read up on Libya’s amazing wildlife and sea-life. 

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A co-op debate with both the Libyan Debate Club and Sijal, under the motion “Foreign intervention will help Libya’s crisis”

4. Libyan Debate Club & Sijal 

(نادي المناظرة الليبي & سجال)

Quick, think of the most ideal solution to Libya’s current crisis. Did you think ‘dialogue’? Well, Libya’s debate club and Sijal group think so too. The Libyan Debate Club was first started in Benghazi, and the members later traveled across Libya to give workshops and help start up other debate clubs in different cities. What’s great about them is their involvement in the Libyan political scene. Their last series of debates involved candidates for the House of Representatives elections.

Sijal was created by former LDC members, and they’re also holding debates that focus on the current events in Libya. Their last two debates have been about foreign intervention in Libya and Benghazi University’s suspension of classes due to the conflict. Both LDC and Sijal hold workshops to train people on the art of debate. 

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A lesson on indoor/outdoor safety by Children First at a school in Benghazi (Source: Facebook)

3. Children First (أطفالنا اولا)

When it comes to child development, Libya is still in its early stages. Children First is a small, Benghazi-based operation that packs quite a punch. Their main focus is on child safety, and they’ve done work on child abuse awareness and a nation-wide campaign for child car safety. 

Libyans have a very limited sense of personal safety, and this often applies to their children as well. Libya has one of the highest rates of car accidents in the world, and many deaths can be avoided if people took more precautions. It was seeing kids sticking their heads out of car windows and refusing to wear seat belts that partially inspired Children First to take action.

2. The Libyan Red Crescent (الهلال الأحمر الليبي)

Red Crescent volunteers helping foreign workers evacuate Benghazi

Red Crescent volunteers helping foreign workers evacuate Benghazi (Source: Facebook)

 The past few months of fighting witnessed by Tripoli and Benghazi have been some of the worst in the country since the revolution. With the evacuation of international organizations in the country, there’s a huge humanitarian crisis looming over the country. The Libyan branch of the Red Crescent has been working non-stop to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

Comprised of several divisions, they do everything from transporting dead bodies from the conflict areas, delivering medicine, evacuating civilians and patrolling traffic intersections. They always train potential volunteers and overall run a very tight ship (the same which cannot be said of government relief groups that have achieved very little). 

1. Libyan Scouts (حركة كشاف ليبيا)

Benghazi Girl Scouts learning first aid methods

Benghazi Girl Scouts learning first aid methods (Source: Facebook)

I could dedicate an entire blog post to the Scouts of Libya and sing their praises. What makes this organization so admirable is its longevity (65 years and counting!) and the fact that they operated under Gadhafi’s dictatorship without being corrupted or stopped (and not for his lack of trying, either). 

Boy Scouts marching band in a culture parade in Benghazi, 2012

Boy Scouts marching band in a culture parade in Benghazi, 2012

The Scouts don’t just organize events, they foster generations of active, conscious citizens. By staying away from politics and focusing on helping the community, the Scouts have done more for Libya than any other organization. A person who joins the Scouts in their youth can go on to be troop leaders and teach the next generation. They teach preparedness, community service, discipline, leadership and host exchange programs with Scout groups in other countries. They also have a Naval division, and you can occasionally spot their colourful sails as they glide on the Mediterranean. 

What’s also amazing about the Scouts is their gender equality. Both Boy and Girl Scouts work side by side in campaigns and march together in parades, a refreshing change in a society still struggling with the issue of women’s rights and visibility.

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This is by no means a complete list. A multitude of diverse organizations exist in Libya, each doing important work. Honourable mentions include Benghazi Ubader (لأجلك بنغازي ابادر) which does clean-up campaigns and renovates public parks in Benghazi,  Civil Initiatives Libya (a national project dedicated to fostering civil society), My Code of Ethics (a campaign started to encourage citizens to be more responsible) and Volunteer Libya (which does a wide range of work).

My biggest fear for Libya is the crippling of its recently-born civil society. Extremists groups have not been inconspicuous in their hostility towards civil society activism, since the enemy of totalitarian rule is a conscious nation that strives for freedom of expression. It is vital to keep civil society alive if we ever want a chance at seeing Libya rebuilt as a civil, democratic country. 

Why Social Media in Libya is Both Awesome and Awful

Just like with Libya itself, I have a love/hate relationship with social media and its use in this country. It has absolutely transformed my life by connecting me with amazing people and helping to facilitate my jump into civil society. But it’s also been a source of frustration, seeing propaganda and rumors spread effortlessly and making a tense situation even worse.

A few weeks back I wrote a piece for Libyan Youth Voices entitled “The Revolution Will Be Hashtagged”, detailing the way social media has transformed Libyan life online through hashtag activism, and how this transformation is being felt on the ground.

But it also has a dark side. After the attack on Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, in September 2012, the hashtag #Benghazi was used by right-wing Americans to “demand answers for what happened that night.” Apparently they think it was a conspiracy theory or something, and they even created a ribbon to show that they will never forget the Benghazi attack. Never mind that they probably couldn’t even point out Benghazi on a map, but the fact that the name of my city, a place with just over a million residents and a history that goes back centuries, has been turned into a verb to mean “a coverup or horrific event”, is really depressing.

If I write something innocuous, like “finally found a store in #Benghazi that sells Reese cups!” I might get a response from some loony saying, “Tell us the truth about #Benghazi!!?” There is so much more life and struggle in this city than an unfortunate terrorist attack that you’re trying to milk for an ill-gained political advantage, you spineless leech.

But the positive side of Libya still continues to dominate. The latest hashtags are , which highlights the brave men and women working for Libya and repairing the damages done by militias, and  (Volunteer and be the hope), started by the Libyan Red Crescent to get people to volunteer.

Another awesome/awful incident takes place in the quagmire known as Facebook. My organization, The Young Writers of Benghazi, depends mostly on the Facebook page we set up to keep people updated with our activities and announcements. We have a Twitter account, but Facebook is much more popular.

Last month we decided to hold an online short story contest. Since it was Ramadan and everyone was stuck at home without much to do, we figured it would be a great way to stir up some Libyan creativity. We designed a poster to catch people’s eye and posted it in both English and Arabic. And we waited.

And waited. And waited. And no one sent us anything.

Online Contest FlyerAR

The Arabic flyer. Eye-catching, isn’t it? But thanks to Facebook’s new policy, not many people get to see it.

The page has over 1,500 likes, so it’s not like we don’t have an audience. Was no one interested in writing a story? Was the lack of a prize a factor in keeping people unmotivated to write anything? We posted and reposted about the contest, but still nothing but a few likes. And then I noticed underneath the posts it would say something like “50 people reached” and “boost your post”.

After some googling, I discovered that Facebook had set up a new policy, where paid posts would get priority on people’s News Feeds. That means, if people don’t regularly check up on our page, they might miss everything we say, unless we were willing for fork over at least 5 bucks for one day of post boosting.

For Libyan organizations and institutes that rely on Facebook (which is, let’s face it, ALL of them), this change is catastrophic. If my university department makes a last minute announcement saying it’ll be closed the next day, there’s a huge chance that I won’t see it unless I manually navigate to their page and check.

Moving to another social media site is an unpractical solution, as many Libyans are still unused to the rest of the internet and would be unwilling to learn how to navigate a new site. Facebook is easy and comfortable, and we’d be talking about the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Libyan internet users. While there is a noticeable increase in users on Twitter, it’s format is much more limiting than Facebook.

So, yeah, thanks a lot Zuckerberg.   Online Contest Flyer2

We’ve extended the deadline for another month and thankfully some stories have begun to pour in (ok, sprinkle in). But in the meantime, we have to start figuring out new ways to reach out to our audience and to the Libyan people. If we want to tackle the problem at the root, we need to start advocating for online literacy, and how to better utilize the internet. Just like everything else in Libya, we’re still taking baby steps to progress.

The Curious Incident of the Plane in the Night-Time

The average person occasionally wakes to the sound of birds in the morning. I woke up to the sound of a drone, lazily cruising through the skies of Benghazi. This was significant for two reasons; 1-We haven’t been paid a visit by the drone in a long time, since the capture of Abu Khattala in fact. 2-There were airstrikes in Tripoli this morning. 

The latter point is significant in itself because this is the first time planes have hit targets in Tripoli since 2011. But back then they were NATO planes. Whose planes were these? 

The Libyan Parliament, who convened in Tripoli on August 4th, voted recently on asking the international community to intervene to protect civilians. As soon as we heard about the planes, the first thing that came to mind was that foreign forces had entered the country. The Italian ambassador denied his country was involved, followed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and NATO. 

The Libyan Interim Government released a statement saying they didn’t know who was behind the strikes, which wasn’t exactly reassuring seeing as they’re the guys in charge. Just when we were beginning to wonder if it wasn’t a UFO or maybe a good Samaritan country who felt bad and decided to scare the militia, Heftar’s forces (i.e. the East Libyan Air Force) made a claim to the airstrikes. 

Which makes sense, in a way. They’ve been hitting militia bases in Benghazi for months now. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they had somehow managed to get planes to fly over Tripoli. 

Except that the Air Force Chief of Staff released a statement saying that the planes were foreign and not local.

Huh. Curiouser and curiouser. 

It could mean that Operation Karama forces managed to get their hands on new equipment, or that they’re getting assistance from other countries. They have been active in Benghazi with recent clashes, but this would be their first operation in Tripoli. 

As baffling as these air strikes have been, they have very serious implications for the militias on the ground. The Parliament has been clear in their demands for the militias to dissolve, being a major threat to civilian lives and the authority of the state. As strong as they claim to be, their disorganized structure make them easily susceptible to systematic aerial attacks. 

It also brings up the question of what will happen if the militias are bombarded. We don’t want a repetition of 2011, where we neutralize the immediate threat but leave ourselves exposed and unprepared for future regrouping and attacks. There are currently more weapons in Libya than there are citizens, and our army is unprepared and under-funded to deal with this catastrophe. 

And then there’s the issue of the country’s political schism. The city of Misrata has gained notoriety throughout much of the country because of their support for the current operation by their militias in Tripoli (named Operation Fajr). Last Friday there was a large demonstration in the city against foreign intervention, and their Parliament members (as well as a handful from other cities) have refused to go to Tobruk, claiming that holding sessions there is ‘unconstitutional’. But with the clashes in Benghazi and Tripoli showing no sign of stopping, the Parliament will not be moving out of Tobruk anytime soon. 

Instead of moving forward, Libya has taken several steps backwards. 3&1/2 years after the revolution we are still in a transitional stage and we haven’t learned to communicate and compromise. Political parties and extremists groups have taken the country hostage and are fighting to the death for power. At this point many people are sick of bickering about political ideals, not when innocent people are dying. If air strikes can at least stop the militias in their tracks, Libya might still have a chance at making it out of the ‘failed state’ category. 

 

If Famous Books Were Set In Libya

This post is a fun exercise in reinterpreting Western literature through Libyan eyes, the result of a crazy Ramadan morning on Twitter.

Hajer and Deeja (also known as @leftyuser and @_khadeja) , my fellow bookworms-in-arms and all-around amazing Libyan ladies, started a whirlwind conversation (no doubt brought on by fasting and lack of sleep) on rewriting our favorite books with a Libyan setting. The results were so hilarious I felt compelled to share them here. (CAUTION: Spoiler Alert if you haven’t read these yet)

1. A Tale of Two Cities: The story of Benghazi and Tripoli, and the hardships the people of these two cities face during the revolution.

2. Pride and Prejudice: Elissa and Jannah, two keen, witty Libyan sisters, must deal with their mother’s incessant badgering to get married to rich man, in a society where marriage determines a woman’s worth.

3. The Great Gatsby: A shady young member of the “thuwar” (revolutionaries), who was once poor, mysteriously becomes very wealthy after enlisting to fight in the revolution. He uses the money to try and get back his girl.

4. Alice in Wonderland: A young American girl finds herself in Libya, a strange country inhabited by the most bizarre creatures who, in turn, find her to be very foreign.

5. Crime and Punishment: A troubled former Libyan student kills an old woman and her sister, because in his mind, he is better than everyone else.

6. Animal Farm: The pigs (GNC members) try to cement their power after the revolution, by training dogs (militias) to intimidate and scare the people (farm animals) to keep them in check. All Libyans are equal, but some Libyans are more equal than others.

7. Harry Potter 5: Dolores Gheryani is brought into the country to “properly educate” the people, but instead forces rules, ruins education and tries to punish the citizen that don’t obey him. It’s no wonder his close friend is Lucius Sweihli.

8. The Arcana Chronicles: A post-apocalyptic Libya with unspeakable terrors and corruption, and an evil militia that kidnaps and tortures wherever they go. People must go to great lengths for basic survival and fight for an uncertain future.

9. The Handmaid’s Tale: After a terrorist attack that leads to the establishment of ISIS in Libya (an extremist military government), an ultra-conservative society forms where women are stripped of all their basic rights and are closely controlled.

10. The Fault in Our Stars: A sick nation falls in love with a captivating revolution that sweeps them off their feet. But the revolution couldn’t live for very long, creating a tragic romance. Aptly renamed to The Fault in Our Revolution.

11. Holes: A camp in the desert of Southern Libya is a place where delinquent young Libyans must go and dig holes to improve their character. But what they don’t realize is that they’re digging to find Gadhafi’s lost treasure.

12. The Trial: A young man is accused of an unknown crime, and is dragged through the bureaucratic hell of Libya’s confusing and corrupt judicial system, only to be needlessly killed without even knowing what his crime was.

13. A Suitable Boy: A long tale of a Libyan mother trying to find the perfect husband for her daughter with the right social status, within the jumbled world of Libya’s tribes, as the daughter tries to establish her independence and role in the New Libya.

14. Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde: Dr.Jamal is an intelligent doctor and upright citizen. But unbeknownst to his family friends, at night he transforms into an Ansar Shariah member and wreaks havoc on the city. He leads a double life that eventually shatters his sanity.

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As you can tell, the common theme of books chosen is rather bleak, which is sadly a reflection of our reality now. However, they are all amazing books to read (I wonder if Libya’s history would ever make a great book?), and give some insight if you want a tiny glimpse of Libya. But don’t forget this Mark Twain quote:

‘Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.’

The 10 Strangest Moments of the Libyan Revolution

During the revolution I was a volunteer columnist for the Intifathat AlAhrar (Uprising of the Free) newspaper, which was published by the Tawasul organization. Most of my articles revolved around the state of the on-going revolution at the time and the changes in society.

But as I was rummaging through some old files to clear up disk space, I stumbled on this draft of an article that never got published. It brought back some memories and so I decided to publish it here. 

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Every uprising has its memorable moments, whether it was the lone man roaming the deserted streets of Tunis telling his people not to be afraid, to the confrontation between Egyptian protesters and Mubarak’s camel & horse thugs, or the tearing down of Pearl Square in Manama.

But when your revolution is against a man who wears flowing silk and velvet robes to UN meetings and surrounds himself with female ‘virgin’ bodyguards, prepare yourself for some very odd situations. In no particular order, the more memorable events of Libya’s uprising are:

#10. Yellow Hats – During the beginning of the revolution, widely circulated rumors about African mercenaries abounded. These were Gadhafi’s “riot police”, so to speak, except instead of water hoses and shields, they shot you in the heart. And they got paid $2,000 a day to do it.

But it didn’t stop there. People were reporting sightings of large groups of ‘yellow hat men”. These were men armed with clubs, wearing yellow construction hats, presumably to help them identify each other.

Of course, being Gadhafi supports, it never occurred to them that it would also help the angry mob to identify them as well. Needless to say, they weren’t around for long.

#9. Gadhafi’s First Speech – Protests have never gone unpunished in Libya before. But when the Gadhafi regime was faced with a situation that had gotten too out-of-hand, their solution was to confront the people, in the form of Seif Al-Islam Gadhafi’s televised address.

When dealing with angry protesters, the last thing you want to do is call them rats, accuse them of being stoned and threaten to burn the country. Unfortunately, no one shared these gems of wisdom to the Gadhafis, and the result was an even angrier mob.

In a hilarious display of poor judgment, it was then announced that there would be an address by none another than Brother Leader himself. The state T.V. channels broadcast that Muammer Gadhafi would shortly be giving a speech to the people. Would he also rave like a lunatic? Shout threats and vow to destroy the country?

It didn’t broadcast until 1 am, and if you blinked you would have missed it. It was a 15-second commentary on the rain, and how he wasn’t in Venezuela. There was also an umbrella.

Of course he made it up to us later with an hour-long threat-filled tirade about hallucination drugs and how the West wanted to colonize us.

#8. Secret Abortion Clinic - You’ve probably heard the phrase “only in Libya”. A combination of circumstances has made this country the setting for some very unlikely events.

After the freeing of Tripoli, a lot of secrets came out. Mass graves, underground tunnels. And an abortion clinic. Under the UNIVERSITY.

An entire suite was found under Tripoli university, including a bedroom, Jacuzzi, and a fully equipped, state-of-the-art female clinic. Why under the University though?

It is believed that Gadhafi posted people there to look for attractive young females, whom he could seduce (read: rape), without going to the trouble of kidnapping them from their home. Apparently he wasn’t a fan of contraceptives, which is where we think the clinic comes in.

#7. Condi Rice Photo Album – A good many odd things were found in Gadhafi  & Son’s numerous houses, including  a tortured maid, golden weaponry and a maze of tunnels. But one of the most peculiar items discovered was a photo album dedicated solely to pictures of Condoleezza Rice. Yes, the former American Secretary of State.

Apparently Gadhafi had a crush on Ms. Rice, even composing a song for her called Black Flower in the White House. Which is bizarre considering that he refused to shake her hand on her last visit. Was Gadhafi just a shy schoolboy? Or a borderline obsessive maniac? (Hint: it’s the latter)

#6. Magic Man – Revolutions bring out the best and worst people to the limelight. We saw the emergence numerous activists, leaders who embodied the best of the Libyan people.

And then there were people like Yousif Shakeer, a talk-show host and purported ‘political analyst’ who began his appearance on Libyan state television as a guest speaker and was eventually given his own show. Now, I could compile a list exclusively for the weirdest Yousif Shakir moments, but for now I’ll just mention one of the most well-known; when he called upon jinn to help Gadhafi.

Rosary swinging in hand, Shakir quivered with concentration as he held what is probably the first ever live television jinn-summoning. But either the jinn were anti-Gahdafi or Shakir needed more lessons in black magic, because they did not come to the deposed dictator’s aid.

#5. The Spluttering Spokesperson – One of the qualifications for any job with the Gadhafi regime is the ability to lie unabashedly in the face of a mountain of evidence, even at the cost of your own personal image. You must dismiss reason and logic, and focus solely on denying whatever allegations are being made.

This was the task assigned to Moussa Ibrahim, mouth piece of the regime itself. No matter what the media outlet was, Ibrahim would assert, with unwavering confidence and no trace of irony, that there was nothing going on in Libya and all the problems were caused by outside forces.

When Tripoli was finally breached and Bab Al-Azizya was crashing around their ears, Ibrahim emerged in a presser to state that Tripoli was under their control and they were prepared to defend it, while simultaneously asking for a ceasefire.

But possibly the biggest mishap occurred on an interview he did with BBC, when he claimed that “not even God” could stop the  Libyan people “if they wanted their dictator” (which you can watch here, scroll to minute 14:40). Way to echo the sentiments of a religious nation, Mr. Ibrahim.

#4. Gadhafi’s Last Stand – No tyrant lives forever, and Gadhafi was no exception to the rule. However, it’s how the tyrant ends which really matters in history. Some, like Hafiz Al-Assad, pass away unremarkably, while others face a violent ending.

In Gadhafi’s case, it was the latter, with a twist of poetic justice. After a NATO attack on his conveys left the ex-leader between a rock and a hard place, he was found in a hole by the same people he called rats. Horrific endings are not uncommon for despots, but how many of them were found with a solid gold gun?

Apparently Gadhafi liked to defend himself in style. This is not the first weapon owned by Gadhafi that was valuable enough to feed the entire Libyan population for at least a year. Among his stockpile were another gold rifle and a diamond-encrusted pistol. And he never even got to use them. Just goes to show you that when buying weapons for self-defense (or murdering your people), reliability always trumps ostentatious glitziness.

#3. Bab Al-Aziziya’s Nightly Raves – Everything Gadhafi did was in gaudy, tasteless style, including the “spontaneous” organized protests that took place in his compound. These took the form of nightly festivities with authentic Libyan wedding bands to boot (East Libyan of course, to show that half of the country that he didn’t hold any grudges).

Every night on Libya’s state tv channel we were treated to an exuberant party of Gadhafi supporters dancing and chanting their support for the Green Man. Flags of supportive countries (which dwindled every night) were waved violently at the cameras, as if to say, “Who needs you France? We have Algeria!”

But one of the highlights of those celebrations was an honest-to-goodness wedding. Yes, that’s right, a bride and groom, bedecked in “imperialist” wedding gown and tux, sat perched atop a chaise longue on stage while the revelers convulsed in dance below. It’s unclear what the message was (Gadhafi supports marriages? Married people support Gadhafi?) but we can say with certainty that it is the most unique wedding we’ve ever seen.

#2. Abdul-Jalil’s Liberation Speech – Few occasions are as momentous in a country’s history as the day it is liberated. The longer and crueler the dictatorship, the bigger the event.

Libya’s liberation declaration on October 23rd was one such day. The 42 years of oppression ending with the death of the tyrant left even the most inarticulate citizen eloquently proclaiming their joy.

And no man had greater opportunity to voice what Libyans were feeling than interim PM Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who was scheduled to give the “official” declaration in Benghazi’s Keesh square. Standing on the podium with the eyes of the country on him, Abdul Jalil declared that Libya was free….and that men can marry 4 wives.

In his effort to emphasis that Libya will become an Islamic country, and unaware that timing is everything, Abdul Jalil nullified a Gadhafi-era law prohibiting multiple marriages during his speech. Because nothing says “dawn of a new era” quite like polygamy.

#1. ???

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As you can see, I never actually finished the list. I don’t know if it was due to my inability to find more events to write about (10 point lists are hard, okay?) or if I was demotivated to complete it after the newspaper was discontinued. It’s funny how much of this stuff I forgot, or how sardonic I could be (oh, to be 20 again).

It also brought back memories of a time when we believed wholeheartedly that the country was headed towards nothing but success. Abdul-Jalil’s speech now seems like an ominous foreshadowing, rather than just a goofy comment from an incompetent politician.

There are very little events in Libya today that could provide material for a lighthearted article, which is why I shared this one. So share your experience with me. What is the strangest moment you remember from the Libyan revolution that deserves the number 1 spot?

Election Anxiety

(I wrote a more professional post on the elections for Libyan Youth Voices, which you can check out here)

*flips calendar* 

Oh my God. Tomorrow’s the 25th? The parliamentary elections are tomorrow! Okay, just be cool. It’s not like these are possibly the most critical elections in Libya’s history or anything.

Wait, what? They are? Hehe. Okay, no worries. *sweating and panicking* But, I mean, I’m just one vote, it’s not like I could single-handedly undermine the nation or anything.

Weeell. Technically, two votes. And you could be responsible for voting imbalance.

What is that?

Say you and the majority of denizens vote for the best candidate on the ballot. Any of the other lesser candidates could also gain a seat from their supporters, without needing a large amount of votes. This means that unpleasant people (like former GNC members who are running) have a chance at winning. Remember, if you live in Benghazi, 20 candidates will be chosen for the House of Representatives, 16 men and 4 women.

So, who should I vote for?

Everyone has own their method of choosing the ideal candidate. For a lot of people, being affiliated with a certain political party *coughMBcough* is enough to reject candidates. Others look for family name and status, activism, political ideology and so on.

I think that the best thing to do is to vote for someone who represents you as an individual. If you’re in the youth demographic, vote for a youth candidate. If you’re in civil society, go with the activist. But check their background and history and ensure that they’re someone you can trust with your voice. Don’t just vote for whomever your parents like. And certainly DON’T vote for former GNC members.

Ugh, but how will I know which candidates I can trust? That would require a lot of work and research.

Pretend like it’s a quiz. Except if you fail, YOUR COUNTRY COLLAPSES.

Day 1 of the debates

Day 1 of the debates

The three-day debates in Benghazi were a great way to familiarize yourself with some of the candidates. There’s nothing like blatantly asking a potential representative if they supported extremist groups and then watch them flinch at the question to let you know they’re not very trustworthy.

But I wasn’t kidding when I said these elections are absolutely critical. It’s not just the fear of voting for the wrong candidate (confession: I voted for Salah Jaouda in the GNC elections and yes, it’ll haunt me for a very long time) but also the fact that, if these guys fail us the way the previous government has, Libya is done for. With the extremists vs. Hifter showdown in the skies and streets of Benghazi, and the political tug-of-war in Tripoli between various militias, the country has never been more fragile. At risk of dropping a drama-bomb (pun totally intentional), our hopes are riding on the success of these elections and those who win. 

I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a to-do list for the Parliament members once they’re sworn in:

  1. Kick the GNC out the door (and preferably into a courtroom)
  2. Visit Derna and the South and figure out what the hell is going on there
  3. Security
  4. More security
  5. Constitution confirmation (affirmation? I don’t know what the legal term is)
  6. Security
  7. Working traffic lights would be nice, with someone to enforce them. And better roads maybe? Replacing car tires is expensive
  8. Are you in charge of the borders? If so, do those. (And by do, I mean construct a 10 meter high electric fence with rabid pit bulls guarding it.)
  9. Fight crime and corruption so hard that people will write songs about you to sing to their grandchildren

As you can see, we need to work on literally everything. Many candidates have said that now is not the time for development but stabilizing. While this is true, its also depressing, because the longer it takes to calm things down, the longer we have to wait to see a better Libya.

Yeah that’s right, I said ‘a better Libya’, you snickering pessimist. While a betting man wouldn’t touch those odds, it’s not like we’ve got a spare country to retreat to.

So, yeah, basically, vote smart. If you don’t, and our country regresses further into a lawless jungle, I’ll be the first to raid your house.

(For the arabic version of the candidates article, you can find it here)

The Graduation Gauntlet | Part 4

If you’ve been keeping up with our higher-education memoir series, this is the final installment, where we ruminate on life after graduation. As always, this is Ali’s POV, while mine is over at Ali’s blog.

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Postgrad Blues

While I had chosen to completely numb my expectations of life after graduation, the initial ‘reality ensues’ kick remained quite painful. I suddenly had an abundance of free time in which I had nothing to do in except laze around, play video games, watch movies and look for jobs. Moreover, what social life and human contact I had were completely thrown out of the window. Being the only child not only worsened that, but it also put more pressure on me to get a job and move to the ‘next level’ in life.

What you don’t learn in university is that life really can be tough. That, and graduation is really not worth it – it doesn’t lead to anything unless you have ‘the connections’ to secure a decent job. Doubly so in a small, oversaturated labor market such as Bahrain: plenty of graduates and skilled candidates to go around, not enough jobs to actually accommodate them.

The only job opportunities that are open to a fresh graduate tend to be quite banal: aggressive cold-calling salespeople or outdoor sales, vehicle drivers, waiters or hotel receptionists, and graphic design. I tried the sales thing for a month and I hated it with every atom in my being. What university also doesn’t teach you is that sales jobs are like chameleons: they come under many names but they are all the same. Here’s some of them: business development executive, marketing executive, sales executive, client account manager, and client services executive. They also all work the same way: cold-call someone, set up a meeting, attempt to convince them to purchase your company’s services, meet a bazillion times, hope that the deal actually goes through.

Not my thing whatsoever.

But I digress. What makes post-graduation life difficult is not the inability to find a job but how your dreams, future plans and self-worth get crushed into a fine thin paste, assuming they are not outright evaporated. How? Allow me to elaborate:

A. Jobs

There’s a good chance that the job you actually want and is really an entry-level position has some very stringent experience requirements. Usually something such as 3 years in an equivalent position. The problem with this is that it reeks of fuzzy, catch-22 logic. You can’t get the job unless you have experience in it, but you can’t get experience unless you get the job. It’s like the chicken or the egg, but very, very real. By the way, scientists say the egg came first.

B. Dreams

Not having a job can put a damper on your dreams. It’s either because you can’t get a job which will make you eligible for your dream job, scholarship or career plan or alternatively, because you can’t get any money with which to work towards your dreams. While some people might have very broad or vague dreams which they will bend or claim flexibility on (that’s me), there are people who do have very specific plans or dreams for the future. The result is the biggest depression-inducing shock of their life as I have witnessed in many a friend.

C. Your self-worth

Oftentimes, post-graduation quickly devolves into a very routine existence of wake up, eat, sleep. This routine, coupled with things such as family pressure, an overabundance of time and having your dreams crushed can make a person feel extremely useless or worse, think themselves as a burden on those around them. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to lock yourself into a cyclic trap of depression.

Finally, if you thought university was full of incompetence or disorganization and how you’ll be leaving all of that behind, don’t hold your breath going into the ‘real’ world. It is the exact same. You have those who have it figured out, and those who don’t. Even the biggest of companies harbour complete messes within their walls.

As you can see, without the right mindset or support, graduation is an abrupt, sudden shock in the life of a student. This is why I pretty much tell all of my still-students friends to not rush towards graduation. The suckerpunch will come – no need to ask for it in advance.

Is university the best time of your life? I would say no, not in the Middle East. Rather, university is more akin to ‘Life-Lite™’. You get a nice little sandbox to play in, discover how society functions and understand yourself and your peers better. It fills in most of your time with things to do and manage. In essence, university manages your life for you while you learn the ropes of society.

What it doesn’t teach you is how to manage your life completely on your own. It also doesn’t teach you crucial skills such as navigating workplace politics or how things really do happen in the real world. You’ll have to learn those on your own time, my fellow graduate or graduate-to-be.

That brings us to the grand question: are you kind of screwed coming out of university? Was it all a waste?

Well no.

University probably helped refine and temper you as a person, simply think back from when you first entered and where you are today: I’m sure you’ll find a lot to be proud of or at the very least, some things you may not be so-proud of but can rest easily that you have experienced or tried them.

So what can you do? Well, I would say that you should stay hopeful, continue to pursue your dreams and interests and not give up so easily. Surround yourself with good advice and supportive allies. Cultivate a hobby or two. Set up gatherings. Stay in touch with people. Use your newfound time to learn something, do something or join something. Create activity in your day-to-day life. If you don’t do it now, you’ll do it later: most people with jobs or marriages almost always get horribly bored a year or two into their job or marriage without any of the aforementioned in their life.

Remember, a job, marriage and kids are not the only valid moves to play in life. The trick is to find out what you can and want to play.

You can almost say that’s the beauty of life.

So go ahead. Try living.