Infographic: The Impact of Libya’s Crisis

[Correction: An earlier version of the infographic stated that the death toll for individual cities was since August 2014. It is actually the death toll since January 2014, and has been corrected.]

I’ve been busier than usual this week, working on a number of projects that I hope to share here soon. Meanwhile, I noticed that my blog readership has begun to increase, and I felt that I should update it more regularly to give y’all your Libya fix more consistently. Below is an infographic I whipped up (practicing my data presentation skills), to give the Libya conflict some perspective. Let me know if there’s anything I missed.

Libya Infographic-Recovered


How to Write a (Sloppy, Inaccurate) News Article on Libya

Whenever news topics become scarce, and continuously reporting on ISIS or Ebola starts to feel monotonous, MENA journalists often turn to their in-case-of-slow-news-day topic; Libya. Specifically, how Libya has become a failure, a monster, a pale shadow of the wonderful thriving nation it was once. [ironic citation needed]

I’ve read a lot of inaccurate, irresponsible, and at times, just plain yellow journalistic articles this past month. The structure is always the same; Heftar vs. Fajr Libya, Liberals vs. Islamists, an apocalyptic-style narrative fraught with gun-toting fighters and a few quotes from arbitrary citizens. Writing about Libya’s current conflict is a piece of cake, really. Factually correct? Meh, who cares, it’s not like they understand English anyways.

Possibly the most damning of these was an interview done by world-famous journalist Christiane Amanpour about Abdul-Hakim Belhadj. “He is the man who many say is the key to making peace in Libya,” she garbled.

Who many say“? I live in Libya and I’ve never heard anyone claim that about him. In fact, he’s been keeping a very low profile during this conflict. And if by “making peace”, she means stopping the crooked militias he has on a leash from destroying the country, then yeah, I can see her point.

It’s exactly this kind of bizarre reporting that has made many Libyans lose faith in journalists. People like Abdulsalam Mismary, Salwa Bugaighis and Tawfik Bensaud could have been key figures in making peace in Libya. But while they were brutally murdered, the people actively funding militias while living outside the country are the ones getting interviewed. Of course, the activists get limelight after their horrific deaths, but only as narrative tools to further make money/publicity off of the chaos in Libya.

And try as they might to be objective, Libyans have already categorized these journalists as ‘reliable, trustworthy sources’ or ‘dirty, dirty liars’, depending on whatever bias they present. And oftentimes it’s not just subjective reporting but downright deception. Examples include the use of the term ‘Tobruk’s parliament’ in reference to the Libyan House of Representatives, which gives the impression that there is more than one official government body (news flash: there isn’t), or extreme variations in the numbers of those killed and injured in clashes.

And no matter how often these journalists reiterate the point that the conflict in Libya is “complex”, it doesn’t seem to prevent them from writing up an over-simplified analysis, presumably to dumb down the story enough for their Western audiences to grasp.

In order to understand to the conflict in Libya, you have to go back almost four years ago to the beginning of the revolution, when the first alliances were forged. And even then, you won’t be able to see the full picture if you don’t understand the nuanced world of Libya’s societal, tribal and regional history.

Angry ranting aside, I decided to try out my own writing skills in a ‘Libya Op-Ed’, in the tradition of these shoddy pieces (if only to console myself with venting).

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Revolution Journal | Oct 6 – It’s another bleak, dark day in Libya as clashes continue. Heftar’s forces fight in one part of the country, Fajr Libya’s forces in another part, while something’s going on in that Southern part with all the sand.

Our sources can confirm almost with certainty that weapons are being used in the fighting, as tweets of ‘BOOM’ are being posted on a social media platform known as Twitter. We have also been able to discern from this site that the fighting is concentrated mainly in the key cities of Libya, namely Benghazi and Tripoli.  

The fighting is clearly drawn along ideological lines. Heftar’s lack of a beard indicates his liberal leanings, while cries of Allahu Akbar from Fajr Libya’s forces betray their Islamists loyalties. The flame wars in the comment’s section of Libyan Facebook pages are a worrying indicator of the dangers of this crisis. 

I spoke to one of my Libyan businessman friends about the conflict. “The situation is very difficult,” he said to us through Skype, from his McMansion in Britain. “The thuwar, known for their level-headed thinking and careful war tactics, are doing their best for Libya, but no one seems to appreciate that. The obvious solution here is to give them more money.” 

Another Libyan city has begun to play a role in this crisis; Tobruk. According to its Wikipedia page, Tobruk is a port city in Eastern Libya. In recent months, an authority calling itself the ‘House of Representatives’ has appeared in this city, much to the puzzlement of Libya experts everywhere. 

“For God’s sake, we were elected!,” typed one representative of this supposed government, in response to a Facebook message. “We couldn’t convene in Benghazi because it’s not safe. Do you people not read the news?” 

After some in-depth Google researching, it appears that there have been a string of assassinations and violence in Benghazi, dating as far back as 2012. We reached out to one Twitter user from this besieged city.

“lol yeah, it totally sucks,” typed user @libyateenqueen2003, clearly distraught. “i haven’t been able to shop for 2 weeks now. ” 

The international community has been vocal in their condemnation of fighting in Libya. “We call on every armed person to put their weapons down now,” said one UN representative, for the 12th time this month. He later told Revolution Journal in a private interview, “There have been some successes in the Libyan conflict. For one thing, the oil production is increasing, which is fabulous news for everyone. Our biggest concern now is that the fighting will extend to the oil fields, which might prompt us to actually do something. We can’t stress enough that no measure is too drastic to protect our fragile economy. Oh, yeah, and the people too, of course.” 

As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan (and virtually every other armed conflict in history), the presence of weapons and a lack of strong authority are usually not helpful when trying to rebuild a country. The meddling of other countries in Libyan affairs is also a contributing factor to the crumbling nation Libya has become. [No one from these other countries was available for comment]

Only time will tell what will happen to this oil rich country as extremism and instability take root [insert overused Iraq cliche here]. With every other horrible thing going on on the planet, we have to ask ourselves, does anyone even care about this forgettable African nation?” 

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[Just a gentle yet firm reminder that the above faux article is SATIRE, i.e. I'm making fun of other articles. It's not meant to be taken seriously. Seriously.]

In Memory of Tawfik Bensaud

{يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً فَادْخُلِي فِي عِبَادِي وَادْخُلِي جَنَّتِي}

10686722_768272909900871_6066513142209257968_nI knew who he was long before I had the honour of meeting him; an energetic young man who was never absent at any rally or civil society event. With his signature hair and warm, friendly smile, he was well-known and well-beloved to many in Libya. Everyone described him as ‘the boy who gave us hope’. Because what made Tawfik stand out was his endless passion and his love for Benghazi and for Libya. He was powerfully devoted to the cause of civil society, involved in countless activities to help his country on the road to democracy and freedom.

While many had given up on Libya and proclaimed it a lost cause, Tawfik persevered. He worked with other activists to organize events and renew the spirit of the people, especially the youth. Tirelessly working towards a brighter future for his country, Tawfik was a role model and inspiration to all who met him.

He was only 18 years old, but spoke with the wisdom and authority of a much older man. He loved to read and showed great appreciation for Libyan history and culture. He could often be spotted wearing a shenna, a traditional Libyan hat. He was a writer, with a strong grasp of both Arabic and English, and even mentioned a book he was working on. Educated, polite, intelligent and kind-hearted, this was the Tawfik everyone knew.

On the night of Friday the 19th, Tawfik Bensaud was brutally assassinated along with fellow civil society activist, Sami El-Kawafi, in Benghazi. Shock, disbelief, horror and ultimately sadness are what we’re going through now. He was our hope and he has been violently, horrifically taken away from us.

A few weeks ago I interviewed him for a piece on youth and the Libyan crisis. He asserted his beliefs that a peaceful, civil movement was necessary to combat the conflict.

“If youth are given a chance, they can find a peaceful solution. My message to Libya’s youth is, you are powerful and you can make change. You just need to take the opportunity and act.”

I can’t believe I am now writing his obituary.

The longer this violence goes on, the more people we lose, the more disillusioned people are becoming with the revolution. Anyone who expresses their opinion is lambasted and targeted. This no longer feels like a systematic campaign, it feels like a full scale massacre. Whether man, woman, young or old, no one is spared by the nightmare that’s enveloped our country, as we all ask ourselves, “Am I next?”

The only way to honour the memory of Tawfik and Sami is to continue their work and carry on their legacy. There is no doubt that they were killed for their beliefs and efforts, and it is now our job to make sure they never fade. They were committed to peaceful, civil movements

Tawfik Bensaud was a beacon of hope and a shining example of goodness and truth in Libya. We have lost him, as we have lost several more before him. How many more will have to die before something is done?

What It Means To Be Libyan

Yes, it’s another culture post. I’m a Libyan who’s obsessed with the intellectual revival of my country, okay? While political flame wars are fun, it’s the artistic manifestations of this unstable and contrasting country that piques my interest. I’ve written about our cultural bankruptcy and Libya’s lost literature. And yes, I’ve revisited this topic several times before.

Pictured: Something difficult to find Libya (the book, not chewing gum)

Pictured: Something difficult to find Libya (the book, not chewing gum)

What really pushed me to write about it again was a book, namely Chewing Gum, by Mansour Bushnaf. I stumbled on this book almost by accident. There was a BBC report called “killing books in Libya” in which the author himself describes the dismal state of publishing in the country. My compulsive googling habits led me to discover his recently published book, and my rage at being unable to attain a copy led naturally to a prolonged Twitter rant at the injustice of not being able to buy books written by people in the same country they come from. 

But a good samaritan noticed my twitter tirade and compassionately bought me the Kindle version of the book, which you can get here by the way. I won’t review the book here since I’ve already done so on Goodreads, but I do want to highlight my reaction upon reading and finishing it.

First off, since I have the unfortunate habit of underestimating Libyan talent, I was taken aback at the literary prose of the book. This is a translated book by the way, a fate that leaves many a written word stripped of the beauty and context of the original language. But the English prose here is even superior to many native English novels I’ve read. Picking my jaw up off the floor, I continued.

The subject matter, whoa. Prostitution, alcohol, love affairs, class division. Libyans like to pretend that this dark underbelly of society doesn’t exist, despite the overwhelming majority of society having some connection to it. But for someone to write about it, and sympathetically no less, was akin to revelation. Why don’t we talk about it? Why are Libyans so afraid of admitting that our social structure is unhealthy and unjust? If you thought ‘systematic repression that has become too ingrained into our subconscious’, then we’re on the same wavelength.

The novel was also, surprisingly, feminist. The repeated symbol of a woman whose intense passions have broken her down because of society’s inability to support her, was refreshing without being too preachy. And the heroine, Fatma, is a symbol of sacrifice for higher aspirations. Relatability, man.

An aged Libyan man wrote a strong female lead. Take a moment to let that sink in.

Libyan horse-riders. Horse riding is a popular sport in Libya. Painting by Libyan artist Ramadan Bakshishi

Libyan horse-riders. Horse riding is a popular sport in Libya. Painting by Libyan artist Ramadan Bakshishi

The story is actually a novelette, and left me with a thirst for more Libyan storytelling. The raw emotion and honesty in Chewing Gum presents a strong impression of one of the many facets of Libyan identity. Our identity is shaped by our surroundings, which is in turn formed from history. We don’t know much about our history because half of it is buried and the other half is being manipulated for political leverage.

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King Idris, a much beloved figure symbolizing a more prosperous time for Libya. (Painting by Tariq Al-Shebli)

Never mind history books, Libya has virtually no books, let alone some kind of widely available, neutral source of history where we can all read up on the path that led us to this crumbling wasteland of a country. “Those who don’t read history are doomed to repeat it.” I know it’s a trite, overused cliche, but it’s also true.

Libyans wouldn’t be apathetic (I hope) towards these new entities insistent on forcing an Islamist or Western identity if they had read Libya’s history and realized that we’re not insane fundamentalists who obsessively segregate genders or openly engage in debauchery. But the truth is painfully obvious when someone posts a picture of a younger Libya, where, for example, women and men both engage in social activities together, and people quote “Wow, I can’t believe this used to be Libya.”

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A Libyan Mona Lisa. Western and Eastern themes often overlap in the art and literature of Libyans. Painting by Libyan artist Khalid (last name unknown)

We can’t believe it because we don’t know anything about it apart from aged photographs and our grandparent’s vague recollections. Without books, without history, Libyans will be mired in this identity crisis, trying on different cultural standards and discovering that none of them fit just right. We need to know who we are as a people and not wait for someone to tell us, because, news flash, Libya is a tempting place for several countries to manipulate and screw us over.

When you ask a Libyan to describe their society, you’ll often get the answer “we’re conservative”. People mistake this for being religious, when it actually just means that Libyans care about what other people think, which is most certainly not an Islamic trait. And it’s sad that we don’t have a more comprehensive answer, or that we limit ourselves to a very narrow political/religious identity. Even the attempts to describe the current conflict as ‘Islamist vs. Liberal’ is way off the mark, since the average Libyan is more moderate than anything else.

A painting entitled 'Refugees' by Libyan artist Ali Enaiza, inspired by the refugees of Ajdabiya during the revolution

A painting entitled ‘Refugees’ by Libyan artist Ali Enaizi, inspired by the refugees of Ajdabiya during the revolution

For the last three days there has been a cultural gallery here. I went to see the books available, but was sad to find that that section was gone (I went late on the third day). Instead I perused through the artwork and photography. There was some very impressive stuff (again, underestimated). Ask the average Libyan about famous artists and you might get one or two names at best.

One of the artists told us about a disagreement he had with his father. “He told me that I was wasting my time by painting,” he said, echoing a common reaction in Libya towards the arts and humanities. This is just my opinion, but I strongly, strongly believe that it’s the arts that will help us form a more national identity than any other pursuit.

Religion has played a large role in Libyan identity. So has tribalism, regionalism, politics, and our long history of invasion and occupation. The 2011 revolution provided a chance for us to finally show the world who we are, and in my opinion, we stuttered. Libyan culture is, among other things, an amalgam of outside influences. This will continue to be our predominate image until we start looking back through our history and start forging our own unique identity. One thing that needs to stop is our desperate cling to one homogeneous Libya. We can be united while still being diverse.

#Benghazi, or, Taking Back the Hashtag

It’s that 9/11 anniversary again. No, not the one you’re thinking of. This one involved a much lower death toll but arguably just as wide an impact. The United States ambassador to Libya, Chris Stephens, was killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi two years ago. To outside observers, this signaled the beginning of Libya’s downward spiral into the current crisis. Although to the more astute observer, the warning signs were there long before, when the assassinations began to take place.

This was a horrible incident for us here in Benghazi for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that we lost a good man who worked hard for our country’s sake. But it’s also when the media began to flip the narrative on Libya, from a successful Arab Spring story to an unstable, terrorist-infested country.

I’ve mentioned before my anger at the hijacking of my city’s name online to connote a disaster, or, even worse, crackpot conspiracy theories (Benghazigate, really? How creative.) But I won’t reiterate it here.

Two years on, Libya is on the brink of a civil war. Tripoli is occupied by forces designated as terrorists by the Libyan House of Representatives, while Benghazi battles a similar enemy; a fundamentalist group with links to AlQaeda, under the name ‘Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council’, is attacking Benina International Airport.

This draconian council is actually an amalgam of militias, who have decided to join forces despite differing ideologies. They include the hatred trio of Libya Shield, Rafallah Sahati and the February 17 brigade, with terrorist group Ansar Al-Shariah. While the battle they are waging against the Libyan army is far from over (they’re basically dashing themselves against rocks by trying to take the airport), schisms have already appeared in their alliance.

This is the angle that the media is currently heavily focused on. The politics, instability, terrorism. Oh the horror, how do these people live in their broken country.

Last year I wrote an article entitled “The Benghazi You Don’t Hear About“, on life in the city in the aftermath of the embassy attack. You know, real life, with actual citizens living day to day trying to eke out an existence within Libya’s new (shakily formed) identity.

Today, we are more despondent and more pessimistic. Our lives have become more limited, and the tension in the air is suffocating. But we are not yet defeated. Despite the situation, civil society is picking up again. A coordination team formed by Civil Initiatives Libya is working on crisis-related projects; a youth-founded book club held their first session today; the Benghazi Ubader group is working on yet another park revival project; the Mercy Foundation held an active citizen workshop; a group of engineers and other volunteers met to discuss working on a model neighbourhood in Benghazi, the ‘We’re Benghazi’s Family” movement is continuing to help displaced families; renovation of the historic Tree plaza is almost finished.

So, yeah, this is how we live. We’ve lost a lot of people over these years, but that’s part of the burden. We keep moving forward, trying to shrug off the pain and desperation, trying to stay on the path we chose at the beginning of the revolution. As one tweet succinctly put it as: “Yes to life!”

As for me, I spent a lazy Thursday evening at a beach packed with families enjoying the last days of summer before school starts. This is the Benghazi I know, even if the hashtags say otherwise. IMG_2970

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.