#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

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