Double Shafra Culture

Double Shafra (arabic: دبل شفرة, translation: two cards| (noun) 

1. A cell-phone that can hold two sim cards

2. A Libyan with a second passport

There is a large Libyan diaspora community, disproportionately sizable compared to our national population. Many people were forced to flee under the Gadhafi regime, many who left for a chance at a better life, many who went on a scholarship program and many who, recently, had to leave the country due to the latest circumstances of the war.

There’s never been a very amiable relationship between regular, or ‘single shafra’ Libyans and double shafras. Before the revolution, this was due to the inherent cultural differences between the two. Double shafras are third culture kids, who grew up between places and don’t really fit in anywhere. Some would vacation in Libya while others had never seen the country before, and Libyan culture and Libyan people can be very difficult for them to embrace or feel comfortable with. It’s equally perplexing for single shafras, who barely got to travel or see foreigners (again, speaking pre-revolution), meet a cousin or someone who acts and talks like an ajnabee (foreigner) but has a Libyan name.

Those are the polite versions. Then you have the double shafras who waltz into the country all high and mighty and wrinkle their nose at everything, in the process patronizing the Libyans who never had a choice to live anywhere else. It’s very trying to listen to someone repeatedly tell you “God, how do you live here? It’s so dirty, there’s no Starbucks, the people are so backwards, urgh take me homeee.” And of course the single shafras, who, whether out of jealousy or annoyance or a combination of the two, declare that double shafras aren’t real Libyans or, even worse, not even proper Muslims, accusing them of debauchery and loose morals because, hey, they live in those kaffir countries right? This is also tough to handle, considering that many of these same single shafras are trying their best to leave the country and get a second shafra themselves, a particularly grating hypocrisy.

As you can see, both sides are guilty of over-generalization and intolerance. I’ve been both types, the confused & arrogant double shafra, and the sympathetic & annoyed Libyan. I wish I could say that the solution to single vs. double is just better communication and understanding, but the issue is more complex than that. Each side is not a homogeneous group but contain a myriad of different identities. There is the unwaveringly patriotic double shafra who has dedicated their life to Libya, the apathetic single shafra who doesn’t care about the country, the double who can fit in anywhere with anyone, the single who fits in better with doubles than other singles, etc. etc.

Like everything else in Libya, this issue took on another layer of complexity after the revolution. The dissident double shafras outside Libya played a crucial role during the revolution, from protesting to petitioning to bringing in aid. They helped carry the voice of the Libyans inside the country despite Gadhafi’s attempts to silence them. And many of them came back when the country was free, determined to continue the work they began in pursuit of a better Libya.

Here is where we reach a crux, and I have to preface this second part with a disclaimer. I’m not trying to offend or insult anyone specifically, or make any particular accusations.

Even before the imminent fall of Gadhafi, many Libyans (inside and out) were squabbling for government positions and places of power and influence. The country was about to get a total system renovation, and they wanted to make sure they rented their spot as soon as possible. So, when the National Transitional Council was dissolved and elections held for the General National Congress, many double shafras won seats or got a place in the temporary administrative government.

This is a point that needs to be highlighted; many of them were voted in. As in, by the single shafra populace. Of course there was a lot of debate over whether a government member should have a second citizenship, or if a person who lived outside the country for 30 years even knew what the country needed. But many of the dissidents-turned-politicians had spent a large part of the revolution talking on news channels in tones dripping with patriotism and promises for the future; disguised campaigns that we were too impressed with to question.

We didn’t really question much during the revolution. Anyone who was against Gadhafi and spoke for us was an automatic hero. We didn’t want to hear criticism, it was a blessed time that made us blind to any wrong-doing. And so we trusted these people with our future, and the future of our country.

And, sadly, they failed us. The GNC is probably one of the biggest government disasters in modern history, so rife with corruption, nepotism and malice that by the time their term was supposed to be over, there were protests across the nation demanding they go. Among the GNC’s most notable blunders was enabling militia groups and plying them with untold amounts of money, and voting for certain legislation under the threat of guns. The headquarters was stormed several times, one of the many Prime Ministers was kidnapped from his own home, accusations were made on the unethical behaviour of many high-level government workers, a female GNC member was found with a grenade in her bag during a meeting, and so on. It was, as we say on the internet, an epic fail.

And naturally, much of the blame landed on the double shafras. Many of them stuffed their pockets with as much money as they could get their hands on before fleeing to their second country, only to continue giving their unwanted and useless advice on Libyan affairs. Others went into hiding due to threats on their life from the more powerful parties (cough cough, They-Who-Must-Not-“MB”e-Named).

I wish I could say that Libyans realized that the problems of the GNC and temporary government were caused by a lack of transparency and accountability, that we gave them too much trust and power, that certain politicians took advantage of the unstable situation. But, if we thought like this, we wouldn’t have had a GNC to begin with.

Libyans today do not trust their counterparts abroad. They are wary of double shafras, in some cases enraged. I think it mainly stems from that feeling of utter betrayal you get when the person you trusted let you down hard. And now that more Libyans are leaving the country, this feeling of betrayal and abandonment feels more pronounced.

A friend of mine on Facebook wrote at the beginning of the war, “Your country is not a hotel that you can check out from when the service goes bad.” That person eventually checked out too, though. This kind of “I’m more patriotic than you” brag, played for decades by Libyans, has a kind of laughable irony to it now, considering that almost everyone I know has a personal benefit in whatever stance they take, wherever they are and however many shafras they own. Even the people in Benghazi now claiming ultimate patriotism status for lasting this long in the war don’t really have anywhere else to go anyways, or have the means to. Some of them, yes, are double shafras.

The tragedy of double shafras is that they will always feel, to some degree, displaced. It doesn’t make it any easier when your desire to help is treated with suspicion and your motives placed under scrutiny. The tragedy of single shafras is that their future looks more uncertain by the day, that they live under the shadow of the threat of the ambiguous term ‘failed state’. And the tragedy of both is that they are Libyans, forever bound to a country that seems placed under an eternal curse.

Okay, that’s an incredibly depressing way to end a blog post, and I didn’t intend to tie in all that political stuff. It’s been a while since I just ranted away. I’m sort of in-between a single and double shafra, and I wanted to explain how it’s about mentality and culture and the particulars about the two. But I’m kind of drained by the war and worried about my house (which we had to finally evacuate) and what will happen to me and my family and my city. I keep hearing the terms ‘economic collapse’ and ‘next failed state’ and ‘running out of time’ and it’s harrowing. I was also supposed to have graduated sometime this month, and instead my university is now a smoldering pile of ash.

I don’t hate any one person or group for bringing us to this point. I think we’re all somehow responsible, though some people more than others. If there’s one thing I wish every would realize, it’s that the average citizen is truly suffering right now, more than you can imagine.

46 thoughts on “Double Shafra Culture

  1. Absolutely sick article bro! I think that has pretty much told the whole problem in a few paragraphs. I actually really enjoyed that read dude, being Libyan myself and actually reading and seeing what’s happening to the country now. It’s kind of like a thorn in your side that you always check everyday but never goes. I guess I’m like looads of other double shafra out there and hopes to get back there in the next few years and help rebuild it. Anyway nice one for that, great read


    Double Shafra

  2. This is surprisingly accurate.
    Very well written also.
    As much as i love my proper passport, i sometimes believe it better to have been in only one place.

  3. Finally i found someone who REALLY understand what’s going on here between the single & double shafra!. As all above mentioned that the tragedy is that both are Libyans and the and that the average citizen is the one who truly suffering in such these conflicts. But what i wanted to add is that double shafra people or those who spent most of their lives abroad, they have got an incredible opportunity to make things goes much better and to prove to Libyans ( Single shafra ) that they really care about their country and their people, and to make them really feel that they both fought against Ghaddafi in a different ways, but SADLY!, most “Not All” of them were more busy getting money as much as they can and leaving everything behind and went back to their other shafra homes !
    Generally, it’s a very complicated issue, considering that most of single shafra people still even discuss if it’s fine or not for Libyan women to drive or not ! – it’s a mentality issue, it’s a way or raising our children. I am not surprised of stigmatizing the double shafra people as much as i am surprised of many other daily issues we face it everywhere everyday.
    A very good article i can say that it came out from a very LIBYAN person ( in a positive way for sure, lol )
    Best 🙂

  4. nice piece to read about that doomed failed state , we are calling home ! somebody speaks some sense amid the awful scene of vulgarity , obscenity and self-hatred we all bear witness on libyan social platforms !

  5. Excellent piece. I am a Serbian living abroad, and my country is going through a similar kind of transition – from a dictatorship to something else (I am not even sure what it is yet). I can assure you that the situation is essence is very similar there.

  6. I understand what you mean by living abroad and not feeling home anywhere. I have experienced it myself, but with the luck of not having to flee a civil war with military drones buzzing over your heads. I have met many Libyans, those who you call double Shafra, and they have often talked about their experience with the regime. It was undoubtedly harsh to live there with all the secret police, knowing that the government and ruling parties are stealing money from oil. On the other hand, I am more concerned about the current situation. It is hard to understand what many of you have to go through right now. I hope you will continue your struggle for democracy, and be able to finally achieve it. You are undoubtedly one of the most developed Muslim countries, so it would be a shame if it ended up in a total massacre.

  7. I emphatize with you and i can relate to what you are writing…so true, politics can ruin everything with transparency and accountability. And you are a great blogger,i admire your work.

  8. Pressed the post button by accident… as I was saying, I’m an Afro-Celt born in the UK and living abroad. Whilst all the war and turmoil are over in my ancestral countries I still feel it for all those war torn states that are all over the news. It’s tragic. And whilst I sometimes feel patriotically homeless, I’m often glad. People are people everywhere, and as people, whatever document we hold, were always single Shafras 😉

  9. I’ve learned a lot from your article! I didn’t know some of the complexities involved in the single and double shafra mentality. I want to pray for you and your country, that God would lead it and its people back to a better path. God bless you and keep writing!

  10. Great article!
    Libya and other torn states in the region fascinate me and your personal account is much better than seeing a summary of the political situation on the news. I wish the best for you and your family in this difficult time.

  11. Very illuminating and well written. Though I can’t speak with authority about the political position my diasporas have back home, I could 100% relate to the general insider/outsider dynamic that you described in the earlier part. And the latter was very enlightening.

  12. Reblogged this on where words fail. corporate cultural diplomacy + related and commented:
    I’ve chosen to reblog the below article written by an aspiring leader from Benghazi. The young Libyan writer, who is currently prevented from graduating because her university is a ‘smoldering pile of ash’, writes about the differences between ‘double shafra’s’ and ‘single shafra’s’, that is, Libyan’s who have returned to their country from abroad and those who never left.

    I live in Vietnam where similar differences can be experiences between the local Vietnamese and the Việt Kiều (or ‘returned Vietnamese’). As a Westerner living in Vietnam and being neither Việt Kiều nor Vietnamese I can see how, like the Libyan shafra’s and double shafra’s, each tends to get on the others nerves and blame games can commence. I hope you find the post as informative as I have.

  13. Just had a read. It is a worrysome situation. What vision does the double shafra population have for themselves in a stable future ?
    India has been stable ever since her independence and a lot of credit goes to the inherited tolerance and respect towards various sections of the society.

  14. Good Post !
    Personally I think its the people who make the country not the country making the people. Unfortunately so much of a countries psyche these days is steeped in the past and any good modern trait that people could bring gets lost. Here in the UK we’ve spend millions remembering World War 1 money that should get spent on people in 2015. I look at countries having problems now and think how different things could be if they could put their differences to one side.

  15. Pingback: 2015: A Year of Great Blogging | The Daily Post

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