You probably haven’t heard about Benghazi lately. Coverage of the city is a seasonal thing it seems, and we’re not currently ‘in’. The media has already milked our situation dry, and there hasn’t been anything new to report on. You might occasionally hear lamentations from people (usually people who don’t live in Benghazi and probably never will) as they shed crocodile tears over the destruction of the city.
As usual, the media fails to cover the human aspect of the city. Time and time again, my amazing city is reduced to a political talking point in the struggle over Libya. But it doesn’t matter, because Benghazi doesn’t need anyone to speak for it. It is a city of actions, not words.
The Electron Youth Network is one of those inspiring actions. A regional MENA youth network that began in 2013, Electron was started with the aim of connecting youth organizations together on a national and regional level. Its main focus is capacity-building for active youth.
In Libya, Electron’s partner was the Attawasul organization, and implemented by a group of passionate youth activists, including assassinated hero Tawfik Bensaud. They began with data collection to learn about the concerns and aspirations of Libyan youth, and went on to implement successful projects throughout Libya. What makes the Libyan Electron Network so significant is the context they were operating within. Libya has been experiencing some of its worst years, and yet the amazing Electron activists continued to persevere and support youth groups.
I was fortunate enough to be involved in a number of Electron activities, including the National Electron Youth Forum held in Benghazi last year, the crisis management workshops and resulting Coordination Team, a discussion session on constitutional recommendations and, most recently, I was fortunate enough to give a workshop on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in cooperation with Electron. I met so many incredible people through the Network, and it truly gave me hope to see these young, intellectual Benghazi activists all working to make a change in their city.
2014 was a very rough year for us, the worst that most of us had ever experienced. We had just come out of a very bloody Ramadan, and Ansar Shariah were still continuing to terrorize the city, when I got a call inviting me to a crisis management workshop. The night before was particularly bad, with violent clashes around the militia base nearby. I left the house rather hesitantly, not knowing what to expect. I mean, the city was a mess, who would even attend a workshop now? Civil society was laying low due to the increase in assassinations that targeted activists, and it wasn’t safe for anyone to involve themselves in activities.
When I arrived, I found a group of young people, many of whom I already knew, who all had that same wary look on their faces. But it didn’t take long for us to get back in stride, discussing the conflict and ways to resolve it. There’s something about team spirit, particularly in a close-knit society like Benghazi, to keep you hopeful despite the odds. The crisis workshop was followed by another, and led to a Coordination Team where we designed quick-response projects for the crisis.
I learned a lot from Electron, but the lesson I prize most is resilience and perseverance in the face of war. I’m not saying this to sound like some dime-a-dozen self-help guru. One of the biggest effects that war has on a person is the complete destruction of their psyche and spirit. It wasn’t easy for us, especially after the murder of Tawfik, to even contemplate a future that wasn’t filled with doom and destruction. I’m still not completely recovered from the horrors I’ve experienced, and I probably never will be. But Electron gave me something to look forward to and a sense of purpose in my life, and for that I will forever be grateful.
Today was the closing ceremony for Electron. The organizers held a presentation of everything that they’ve accomplished. We discussed our experiences and (happier) memories, as well as what we’d all do in the future. None of the activists in the room with me today showed any signs of wanting to slow down or stop their work. On the contrary, we talked about what other projects to work on, how to join our efforts and do more for Benghazi.
At the end of the ceremony was a debate, held by the Libyan Debate Club. The motion was “Youth Should be Placed in Leadership Positions”. The whole thing was organized very quickly but very professionally (the Libyan Debate Club in Benghazi is the best in the nation). And of course, the team for the motion won by a majority of the votes.
It’s interesting also to see the growth that Benghazi’s civil society has witnessed since those distant days in 2011 when none of us really knew what we were doing. Activists now have the experience of two crises under their belt, and while the reality of our situation these past few years has been difficult to live with, it has ultimately made us stronger. We’re now more experienced, more pragmatic and definitely more competent.
This is just a small sample of the events going on in Benghazi today. The city is doing much better now than it was a few months ago, and it’s improving by the day. I don’t brag about my city out of bias alone, but because it truly is an awe-inspiring place with some of the greatest people you’ll ever meet. It will continue to get better, despite the level of abuse and opposition it’s getting from those who would rather see it crushed under the flip-flop of militia rule. But as long as its people and its civil society are here, Benghazi will endure.