The Myth of Libya’s Civil Society


A parade in Benghazi organized by local community groups (2013)

In almost every single project proposal written by local and international organization on Libyan civil society, the first thing you’ll read is “Libya’s civil society was born after 2011, it is still a new sector” or some variation on this line. Hell, I’ve written this countless times when seeking funding for projects.

The problem is, it’s not entirely true.

Let’s backtrack for a minute. What is civil society, anyways? The official definition is that it’s the ‘third sector’ following public and private in any nation state, and it’s definitely a popular buzzword with the EU and UN. But the exact meaning is a bit murky, and ranges from any type of volunteerism up to professional income-generating institutions. There’s also a tangle of acronyms; CSO, CBO, I/NGO, NPO, etc, the common letter being the ‘O’ for organization. The contemporary definition of civil society seems to revolve around organizations, official registered bodies who normally don’t make a profit.

Jumping back to Libya, Gadhafi had initially quashed any type of civil society movements, along with banning political parties and arresting student protest organizers. The image of students being hanged on university campus was enough to stop any activism in the country for a long time. The only non-state movement that was begrudgingly allowed to operate was the Scouts, although with heavy oversight.

As Libya opened up following the lifting of international sanctions, there were renewed efforts to organize social movements. Careful not to catch the attention of the regime, these organizations were mainly focused on issues such as cancer awareness, the rights of people with disabilities, environmentalism and charity collectives. But even if the focus of the organization was benign enough for the regime, you still had to go through a draconian registration process that included 70 founding members acting as signatories.

Fast-forward to 2011, and the civil society ‘explosion’ happened. Suddenly, there were no rules and no limit to what you could do. Young people came together and started radio stations, training centers, political movements, book clubs, everything and anything that had collective interest. Half finished buildings or donated office spaces became headquarters and it was easy to find business owners willing to contribute anything to help fund projects. It was an amazing time to be alive, when we were fueled by revolutionary fervor and felt invincible. Until reality caught up and it all came crashing around us.

But this post is not about the rise and fall of Libya’s civil society. It’s about what we’re calling civil society. Whether before or after the revolution, the discourse is always on the formal or semi-formal organizations; as long as you had a name, a logo and at least two members, you were a civil society thing of some sort. The aspiration was always towards organization status, and many of those movements institutionalized, registering with the newly created Civil Society Commission and developing an administrative hierarchy. Part of this reason was the experience being gained over time, but the bigger and most compelling reasons was – drumroll please – international funding.

The international community, operating on the multiple acronym-formal bureaucracy-do-you-have-a-finance-officer definition of civil society, would only grant funding to CSOs who were a) officially registered with any government entity and b) had a bank account. In the face of these constraints, organizations and movements picked up the tricks relatively quickly, and many people saw the opportunity of making money by setting up organizations just to get funding.

BUT – and here comes the Whole Point of the Post – what about the non-official, ‘informal’ civil society?


An art gallery in Benghazi, organized by Facebook group of art lovers (2015)

Libya has always had a civil society, and not just the charity aunts type. You see, civil society is more than just acronyms and logos. Anything outside of the government or private sector structure that organizes and mobilizes people is civil society, and Libyan society has a very long tradition of managing itself. Tribes have been mediating conflicts for centuries, and tribal land trusts are an efficient mechanism of ensuring housing. “Jam’iyat”, a form of community financing in which people collect and distribute monthly savings, has been very popular especially among Libyan women. Entire cities are the protectors of ancient heritage sites like in Leptis Magna or Shahat or Acacus. Neighbourhood watch groups, online forum communities, the zakat system, academic circles, the list goes on and on.

In our country’s legacy of state weakness, Libyans have had to figure out their own way of meeting their needs, bending the official procedures around their own self-made system. It’s a process that is constantly negotiated and renegotiated, but I believe that it’s one of the reasons why Libya has not completely collapsed at this point.

But international organizations don’t fund tribal land trusts or mosque groups that meet every week to teach illiterate women how to read and write. The development system has been configured in a way where informality is not recognized. If you don’t have a government stamp of some kind then you don’t have any claim to ‘legitimacy’, and it’s incredibly problematic for the international development sector to impart their version of legitimacy onto Libya. I worked in an organization where we had dozens of grants to give to ‘civil society’, but a list of regulations and guidelines on eligibility that excluded almost anyone who didn’t know the international development jargon, and who didn’t mold their organization to fit our vision of what civil society was, rather than the other way around. I can’t count the number of times I’ve begged local movements to get any type of registration so we could fund their work, because it was easier to convince them than to tell the EU or UN that their system was bullshit.

The institutionalization of civil society does not work well in countries where communities are held together by networks of trust and reciprocal benefits rather than paperclips and rubber stamps. The reason why civil society thrived in 2011 was because there was no formal funding, everyone contributed what they could and it was led by collective efforts, in the spirit that has kept Libyan society together until this day. This is a huge missed opportunity for any kind of development work.

I’m not against formal organizations, and I’m so proud that in the space of only eight years and in difficult circumstances we’ve witnessed the rise of truly remarkable civil society institutions in Libya. But this institutionalization should happen on our own terms, away from the exclusionary language of ‘legitimacy’. If international organizations want to work better in Libya then they should work within the system in place. And please, for goodness’ sake, let’s stop saying that Libya never had a real civil society.

A Fragmented Country

The other day I had attended the screening of a film entitled ‘Prosecutor’. It was about Luis Moreno Ocambo, the eponymous prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, detailing his work with regards to African countries. During the movie, there was a brief flashback to his earlier work as a judge in Argentina.

There was one scene specifically that I can’t get out of my head. It was of a courtroom, where the trial of an Argentinian dictator was taking place. It was slightly grainy film footage, and you could see people had filled up every corner of the wood-lined room. When the verdict of guilty was read out, there was a close up of a woman who leaned on a railing, burying her face in her arms and sobbing.

I imagine she had lost someone during the brutal reign of the dictator. Maybe more than one person. This was for her, probably, the moment she had dreamed of. The moment justice was finally served, a moment of closure for whatever pain and heartache she had gone through. It was a very brief shot, maybe a few seconds, but it really stayed with me.

Because this is a moment that many people in Libya desire. More than desire, it consumes them. So much so, that they are willing to take justice into their own hands, because waiting for a legal court institution to be set up and put their minds at peace is too long a wait. We’re known for being emotional, impulsive people. We’re quick to love and quick to hate, too. Right now, it’s more of the latter.

Many people felt that justice was served when our own dictator was killed. Many more are waiting for the trail of other officials from the era of the dictator. But as I type this, injustice is still being generated. What else do you get out of a war?

Of course, there is the slight complication that everyone sees justice differently. For some, it’s killing the person who killed your loved one. For others, it’s burning down their house, or killing their loved ones. If someone’s city gets hit by a suicide bombing or a plane strike, well, that’s just one more point for ‘our team’. As things escalate, very few people see actual jail time as justice anymore.

Right now, we’re a nation of six million people with a grudge, and each wants the other’s eye on the end of their knife. And I’m not the exception. On the contrary, I am also angry, I have also lost people and I also have a bone to pick with those who champion the same people that have terrorized my city. It fills me with rage to see a militia leader glorified as a brave man, likened to heroes of the resistance and given pomp and status. It’s done more for the spite value than actual admiration, and I try to rise above such petty goading, but it’s difficult. They do it to hurt us, and it hurts. How do we make them understand what we’ve gone through, that we have legitimate reasons for supporting the side that we do? Even if we screamed it at them through a bullhorn, they probably still wouldn’t pay attention. Everyone’s entitled to their own delusions, I guess.

And yes, you’re probably saying, “But what about your delusions, oh wayward Benghazina?” Again, I’m not an exception. But seeing a car blow up and burn the driver before your eyes isn’t a delusion. Staring down the barrel of a shotgun as a masked 17-year old asks why you want to go back to your house isn’t a delusion. Hearing a man on television promise to plunge your city into another ‘Iraq’, or that they will come to you ‘with slaughter’, isn’t a delusion. These are very real incidences, and more than once they have forced us to rethink how far the severity of the actions we’re willing to accept can go, in order to save ourselves and our city from these menaces.

And for some, who do not live through the situation and thus don’t comprehend it, believe the actions are not acceptable. This where many of the misunderstandings have come from, and what is currently widening the chasm between people. They think we want to prop up another dictator (although we are the ones who initiated the uprising against the previous dictator) and that we wish to wage conflict against them too. And there are plenty of idiots more than eager to fill the position of vengeful rival.

A lot of people say, ‘oh many nations before you have gone through this, but they always make it through the tough times.’ While that’s a very lovely sentiment to hold on to, it’s doubtful when you look around. I find myself questioning more and more lately whether we can make it through in one piece. Will we fragment into parts, each its own nation? Maybe it would be easier. It’s certainly tough to wonder how we’ll be able to all live together after this.

I think back to the girl leaning against the rail of that courtroom during a very distant era, crying in joy, and wondering if she had gone through what we had. Did she, perhaps, also break friendships over the war? Did she also find herself isolated more and more from other citizens in her country? And did she also justify actions that she might later regret?

War is ugly, but civil war is positively heinous, because the charade of national unity and solidarity is dropped as everyone is eager and willing to sink their claws into one another. People will love and hate at the drop of a hat and without any influence of principles or ethics. And we just keep fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces, until one day we’ll all find ourselves alone, with no one on our side.

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.

Where’s Your Proof? & Other Ridiculous Arguments about Benghazi

Because there’s a war waging outside and I have way too much free time on my hands that I’m squandering away on naps, I figured I’d write out a general response to the usual debates (read: angry Facebook comment wars). It’s kind of tiresome to just continuously repeat the same points over and over again, so I’ll compile them here.

Disclaimer: I am not a neutral observer of the events in Libya, if that hasn’t been screamingly obvious yet. I am biased and completely support the army. This is a post written for fun, a chance for me to blow off steam. If you are an Ansar supporter with a bug up your butt, don’t bother past this point.

Point 1) How do you know Ansar are behind all the bad things in Benghazi?

Well, let’s see. The overwhelming majority of assassination victims have been army members (whom Ansar have openly stated are their enemy and have fought with previously) and activists/journalists (who have been openly critical of Ansar Shariah and militia groups).

Then there’s the fact that Ansar have not denied that they are behind the assassinations. I mean, you’d think, with half the country pointing fingers at you, making a statement denying the allegations would be prudent. It’s also not helpful if you go around declaring that democracy is haram.

But clearly the answer you’re looking for here is THIS IS ALL HEFTAR’S FAULT. Which brings us to:

Point 2) Heftar is equally as bad as Ansar Shariah

You see, the term ‘equal’ actually means ‘of the same value’. Ansar Shariah has been wreaking havoc on Benghazi for years. Heftar showed up six months ago. Two years ≠ Six months. Point being that, most of the time, this war has been one-sided, with Ansar attacking the army with impunity. Applying a false equivalence to the two groups is deceptive and incorrect.

There’s also the fact that Heftar hasn’t assassinated over 500 people in cold blood, hasn’t blown up police stations, doesn’t have ties to other terrorist groups, etc. etc.

There’s this thing called cause and effect. Ansar Shariah = Cause. Heftar = Effect. If they hadn’t started their bloody campaign, there wouldn’t have been any need for Op. Karama.

Point 3) Heftar has the help of foreign forces

Yes, and he hasn’t denied it. But there’s a difference between bringing in troops on the ground and getting logistic help.

And if we’re gonna start being nit-picky over the use of foreign forces, did the National Transitional Council have any right to involve NATO during the Libyan revolution? I mean, they’re also foreign forces, right?

Oh, but we liked those foreign forces, even though they also bombed cities and killed Libyans. The point then was to ultimately protect civilians, and the point now is to ultimately protect civilians.

Point 4) There’s a difference between Ansar Shariah and the ‘thuwar’ (militias). I am against the former but support the latter.

Except, what the hell do you think The Revolutionary’s Shura Council is exactly? Ansar Shariah + Libyan Shield + Rafallah Sahati + February 17 Brigade. By grouping themselves with a terrorist organization, the ‘thuwar’ (whose role prior to this was tainted already with shooting at protesters) have basically said that they don’t mind working with throat-slitting maniacs, as long as it keeps them in power.

Point 5) They want to implement Islamic Law! Why do you hate Islam?

Oh, you mean like how they implemented “Islamic Law” in Derna? A group of unwashed, scruffy, ignorant men who can’t even talk properly, holding an entire city hostage and threatening anyone who opposes them with murder, is Islamic? Sorry but you’re reading the wrong book.

And you’re making the assumption that Libya isn’t an Islamic society. Did all the strip clubs and widely available booze confuse you? A Muslim society gets to choose, through consensus, how their region functions, with leaders they voluntarily approve of. Almost like some kind of majority-rule system with representatives and laws and stuff. If only something like that existed.

Point 6) People aligned with Operation Dignity have destroyed people’s homes

Yes, and that is appalling. People’s homes should not be destroyed, even if there’s a valid reason for searching them. No one wants a country built on revenge and retribution attacks.

Did you check out the hashtag #لا_للإنتقام (No To Revenge), where pro-army Libyans expressed their disdain at revenge attacks and urged people not to resort to them? Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t seen a #لا_للذبح hashtag yet by Ansar supporters.

Point 7) Civil society is to blame because they protested against militias on ‘Save Benghazi Friday’

Yeah, you’re right; we should have just quietly accept a group of armed lawless thugs controlling our city, lest our complaints send them on a murder spree. (This point is so filled with stupidity it makes my head hurt.)

Point 8) Is plunging the entire city into a war the solution to this problem?

If you have an alternative solution, I am all ears. Until then, asking people to tolerate assassinations, kidnappings and explosions, until an ideal solution magically presents itself, is going to get you ignored.

Conclusion: We can (and should) be debating things like introducing army reforms, or the importance of transparent and accountable government institutes, how to collect the weapons that are in the hands of criminal gangs, etc. Better yet, we should be working within civil society to try and enact these changes.

Instead, we’re debating whether it’s legal to fight against terrorist groups and the legitimacy of the Libyan army. It’s almost four years after the revolution and we’re still in a transitional period with no end in sight. We cannot perpetually live in a state of political and military revolution. We need to start being a proper 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 Drone Flew Over Benghazi That Night…

…over the heads of the annoyed but unwitting denizens of the city. It didn’t make a distinctive sound, more like a vibration. You could hear it in your pulse, long and low and continuous. Sometimes it dropped lower and you could swear the windows were rattling in their frames.”

“Why should the drone appear now, after months of absence? Could it have something to do with those rumors of captured Americans? And if the city is unsafe for foreigner, who’s even operating the damn thing?”

“As usual, the list of unanswered questions in Benghazi remains long and confusing. The citizens no longer care much, with their focus being on surviving a day-to-day existence. That’s not to say that living in the city is impossible, but the string of bombings and assassinations have left people rattled. We’re not used to this type of violence. Hell, there’s a good chance it’s not even Libyans perpetuating the violence. With a grudge from the Syrian regime over Libyan fighters in their country, to terrorist organizations eyeing the country’s aimless young men as fresh meat to recruit, the list of possible suspects almost matches the list of questions.”

“The drone watches all of this. Flying, observing, collecting information to be processed by minds and machines more sophisticated. Is the government even aware that there is a drone flying over the second largest city in the country it governs? I’m sure the list of things the government is oblivious to could fill several libraries. But I’m not sure if this is one of them. They’re definitely getting help from “friendly” nations. But assisting the current Libyan government is like giving a screwdriver to a fish; it possesses neither the appendages nor the necessary brain power to do anything useful with it.”

And so concludes the saga of Benghazi’s drone…for now. I actually wanted to write a rant on the abysmal state of journalism in the social media era (did I rant on this before?), but the drone was interrupting my thoughts. Also, I didn’t have a opening paragraph in mind. Two and two!

Screw journalists. Those soulless word zombies, ready to tear out the organs of a nation, ideology or a struggling city just for a story. Facts? Verified witness accounts? Pfff, just type out a few superlatives in the title, make vague allusions to some righteous cause that people want to defend (or tweet about to look righteous, same difference) and BAM! you have a moderately interesting story that’s bound to get a few likes/retweets/reddits (I don’t actually use reddit so I’m not very familiar with the terminology, but I assume it has the same general premise as other social media sites. Plus the users are called “redditors” so whatever, not like I’m far off the mark).

My rage is not new, but it is amplified. Following the chaotic events that have happened in Benghazi these past few months, every major and minor publication is rushing to write some article about the city, because, hey!, the US ambassador was killed here, remember? (Of course you remember, every right-wing loon has the name of the city hashtagged in the bio of their twitter account, as though every stone in the city is responsible for the death of a guy they had never even heard of prior).

But they can’t actually visit Benghazi. The city is a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and sundry other terrorist groups (according to that one post in a facebook group. A reliable facebook group, mind you).

So these journalists, in their rabid search for material to write about a country they probably couldn’t locate on a map, send out tweets and emails and requests to anyone who’s written the word “Libya” more than twice. “Hi there, would you be interested in answering a few questions for XYZ magazine about the situation in your city? Nevermind that you might be lying about your identity and current whereabouts! It’s not like it would happen on a social media site. What is this, MySpace in 2005? Guffaw! Also yeah ask your friends for quotes, too.”

Let me simplify the equation in case my midnight writing is hard to follow:

Journalist + Seeking Story – On The Ground Reporting = Bullshit

Don’t get me wrong. Even journalists who are on the ground can excrete bullshit reports. But the equation above is a surefire way to find articles with more semicolons than there are facts. I’m not going to link the recent wave of Libya-related articles because I don’t want to pollute my page with yellow journalism, but just type “Libya” or “Benghazi” in your search engine and you won’t be disappointed (in the results, I mean. You WILL be disappointed in the level of garbage being published. Unless you hate Libya, in which case piss off).

Now, I’ve been known to rage against globalization and the rise in stupidity being imported and exported. But I genuinely feel that, now that we’re all “connected” in the age of technology, there’s just been less effort to do things right. Back when the internet was used almost exclusively for porn, journalists weren’t distracted by arbitrary popularity indicators. You either sold papers or got viewership. But now you not only need to check how well your story is doing on various mediums, but see who else is talking about it, thanks to the rise in sites who’s sole aim is to regurgitate links from other websites. 

If the average human’s attention span can be held in a head-lock by the thrill of human attention being given on their social media pages, what makes journalists immune to this same pitfall? I would even venture to presume that the phenomenon is magnified for them, since they’re not just dealing with a handful of likes or reblogs, but dozens, hundreds, in some cases even thousands. The rush they get must be huge, not just for being acknowledged, but because they will see the attention as validation for their performance as a journalist. “Whoa, 3,000 likes and counting! Man, I’m an awesome online journo!”, they say, fist pumped in the air once before it returns to the crusty Cheetos bag in their dank living room.

And who is the victim here? The poor developing countries they’re writing about. If semi-credible press agencies publish/air these unconfirmed stories, some people will believe them. These people will tell others, citing the semi-credible source. It gets around, until parties interested in dealing with this country reconsider, which leads to the actual deterioration of the country. Not because it really was a safe haven for criminals/terrorists/West-hating crazies, but because that’s what people believed. The terrorists catch wind and think,”Yeah, they said there’s a whole bunch of us in that city, let’s go join them!” You see where I’m going with this?

Okay, so perhaps the situation I outlined is stretching the bounds of reality just a little. There must have been some event that had happened which led to the rumors circulating, and which caused these rumors to manifest as reported events. But I have heard stories that ended up being complete fabrications too many times for my paranoia meter to be working properly anymore, and propaganda wars have been in full swing in the MENA lately. I’m not going to be wearing a tinfoil hat anytime soon, but I will continue to be wary of journalists who are interested in Libya.

Culturally Bankrupt

As a representative of the Libyan people, I’d like to file for cultural bankruptcy. I guess it’s kind of like regular bankruptcy, except we don’t have any debts to pay. Unless you count what we owe our children in the form of a legacy. But they might be more worried about the imminent financial bankruptcy they’ll inherent if Libya’s oil continues to be sold on the black market.

A Libyan might scoff at such a claim. “Look at Libya’s rich history!”, I imagine them saying, in an unfounded tone of self-righteousness. “Gaze our ancient ruins from the time of the Greeks and Romans, gander at our Italian architecture from the days of the occupation, observe the books and paintings left behind by great Libyan minds!”

Except, how long have we been using the same, tired line when trying to showcase Libya’s culture? Besides a handful of dead authors and artists, and a cluster of dilapidated buildings, what else do we have to show for our history?

Look left and right on a map of North Africa. Tunisia is famous for it’s sprawling, seaside towns. Morocco is well-known for it’s rich art, and Egypt is, well, the mother of civilization. But Libya? How many times, oh smug Libyan, have you encountered a person who had never heard of your country before?

To be fair, we’re pretty well-known now. Just type up Benghazi in any search engine and it will be embarrassingly obvious what the world identifies Libya with today.

There’s an annual event called “World Architectural Day”, each year with it’s own theme. This year’s theme is, you guessed it, cultural architecture.

A few architects in Benghazi got together twice, to figure out how we’ll celebrate. If you’re an Arab, I need not transcribe the blood-curdling chaos that is us trying to unify around one idea. If you’re not an Arab, count your blessings. One of the recurring ideas was holding a festival at a historic site in the city.

Gah. No, please. Not more tradition-glorifying. Since we’re already devolving into a more backwards society, I don’t think we need anymore “returning to the past”. It’s the go-to concept for the lazy thinker when asked to come up with an innovative solution to any social crisis these days. “Let’s work on preserving our culture!” Let’s not.

I proposed the idea of implementing what we want Libyan culture to look like in the future, and perhaps by personifying it, it will seem more attainable. I was, of course, drowned out by the raucous din of several voices trying to talk over each other.

My mother habitually surfs through the multitude of inane Libyan channels, with the hope of finding a report on current events, rather than the typical armchair analysts droning for hours about an event that happened months ago, or a blast of shrill, auto-tuned, generic music. One time she stumbled upon the taping of an “event”, a word I use in the loosest sense. It comprised of a crowd sitting on bleachers watching an infamous Libyan “actor”(again, in the loosest sense) parading around on the stage in a teen-style costume and singing, in the distinct gruff voice Arabs use when trying to convey humor, about drugs and guns. It might have been a social commentary on the ills of these criminals, and how they corrupt our society. Except there were children present. Singing and dancing, with this apish imbecile.

Whatever message was being conveyed here (and if, in fact, there actually was a message and this wasn’t some kind of brain-melting exercise in debauchery), I highly doubt the children picked up on it. This “actor” is well-known in Libya and, much to the chagrin of the intellectuals, pretty well-loved. Most other actors here are not far behind on the no-talent scale.

After the revolution, a burst of talent erupted from the most disenfranchised demographic, the youth. Writers, artists, aspiring politicians, etc. etc. But they were plagued by two curses; de-motivation and hubris. There was no one to encourage their life-choices (“you’re going to throw away 4 years of engineering school to paint?”) and they expected accolades for their every achievement, since there was virtually none prior to the revolution (“I spent a week making that hip-hop album in my garage, how dare the radio stations refuse to play it!”).

So, let’s summarize the painful reality. Architecture: Falling apart, if not already in ruins. Artists: Dead or dying. Actors: Dismal. Authors: If Facebook users who write out essay-length posts qualify, several. Musicianshahahahahaha

All we have left to clutch onto is our faded history. I think this is a pretty strong case for declaring cultural bankruptcy. In the future, if globalization doesn’t engulf us, there is still perhaps hope of recovery. The talent we saw after the revolution was completely unexpected, which means that it’s still there under the surface, waiting to be noticed. Strong institutes and even stronger minds are needed. But there also needs to be demand. Once the novelty of talking about politics wears off, Libyans might start seeking other topics to converse about. Whether the lack of culture prompts them to act or not is still uncertain.



This is for me. Writing it out might help. I’m in one those moods; grumpy, low self-esteem, despondent. I think it’s because my sleep pattern has been disrupted, because university started. Hello 8:00 am, it’s been a while.

It could also be because university started. Being surrounded by the swarming mass of braying, drooling, simple-minded idiots that constitute the architecture department always has a way of making me feel dread for humanity. There’s this new trend I’m noticing among the guys; growing out their hair in a frumpy afro. It’s given the university a new homeless-shelter appearance, because naturally they have to pair this new hairstyle with the latest tattered clothing. Pants that are either too-tight or hanging off their ass, the over-powering smell of cologne as though they bathe in it (if they bathe at all), the grunge t-shirts featuring broken English.

There’s a picture on Twitter I saw recently of Libyan men in the 1950s. Tailored suits, clean-shaven, confident, and walking down the pristine streets of a Libya that had not yet seen the plague of Gadhafi. Is it Gadhafi’s fault that this generation is so trashy and vapid?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a 60-year old grouch that yells at kids to get off their property (that’s my dad). I just don’t think acting young and carefree means having to act like an airhead.

The whole Boston event was pretty depressing as well. The deaths and injuries, yes, but also the reactions. A Saudi man who participated in the marathon was questioned as a suspect, because he was the most Arab looking person from those running away from the explosion.

Some Arabs/Muslims on Facebook and Twitter posted ‘PRAYING FOR SYRIA AND PALESTINE’, and ‘Why don’t events in the Middle East get the same attention?’

1. The media of the Middle East and the media of the West focus on what is pertinent to their viewers. AlJazeera did not discuss the Boston bombing the way CNN did. But when you’re online, and viewing things in ENGLISH, you’ll be more exposed to Western media.

2. There has been almost non-stop coverage of Syria since the beginning of their revolution. When a major event happens in Palestine, we find out. Writing a comment of solidarity with Boston does not negate this fact. I think the ability of critics to only notice  Western-aimed sympathy is a reflection of their mindset.

3. If I want to only talk about America, I will only talk about America. If I want to talk only about Arctic polar bears, I will only talk about Arctic polar bears. Telling a person what they should talk about or focus on undermines the basic tenets of free speech. If you’re concerned about the crisis in the Middle Easy, YOU talk about it, and not only mention it when a catastrophe happens in another part of the world.

So, yeah. Sometimes social media makes you want to put your head through a wall. But it was still cool when the term ‘Muslims’ began trending on Twitter, and it was mostly positive tweets defending Muslims. You get the bad with the good, as it goes.

The books I haven’t started reading yet are giving me accusatory looks. I really want to read something, but after a couple paragraphs I can no longer muster the interest or even strength to hold the book up. I don’t read as much as I used to.

There’s a joke on the internet that says if you diagnose yourself online, you’ll be convinced that you’re dying. I’m almost sure I have hypothyroidism or abdominal cancer.

The lights are currently off right now, across most of Benghazi, in preparation for the carnival tomorrow. There’s going to be a carnival tomorrow. The launch of Benghazi’s campaign as the Capital of Culture. Because we’re so whiny and demanding, we need to be called the capital of something. I have so much respect for the small towns and villages that are almost never mentioned but who quietly do their work and improve their small part of world without any recognition or praise. Benghazi’s become too strident, like a teenage girl that just began to develop and needs constant affirmation of how pretty she is or else she’ll have a tantrum.

Nouman Ali Khan said, “If you are offended when someone corrects you, you have an ego problem”. I probably have an ego problem, but my offense is a result of my embarrassment. And the fact that I love self-pity. And seeing myself as a wounded solider against all the injustice of humanity. Note to self: Work that out. Seriously. It’s unseemly.

I feel better now.