A Tale of Two Cities

By the fourth year, the bombings and assassinations had become common in Benghazi. The sounds blended into the city’s background noise. Traffic horns, supermarket crowds, booms. We never accepted it, but there it was anyways.

These sounds, familiar to us, took Paris by surprise this week, shattering the pattern of the city’s busy existence. Terrorism is a hideous thing, but it’s made more horrifying when it catches you unaware, filling your surroundings with violence and bloodshed.

But unlike Benghazi, there’s a system in place, a procedure to follow, to protect the city from falling into further chaos. Also unlike Benghazi – where our own young men turned on us – these men came from somewhere else, filled with unexplained anger and blood lust. While nothing has been properly confirmed yet, there’s a lot of speculation that these attacks were carried out “in revenge” for France’s role in combating ISIS. Why they would target innocent civilians who have nothing to do with the jets over Deir al-Zour, nobody speculates on, because this is not an ideology based on rational thinking. It’s built on reactionary propaganda and the manipulation of emotion.

This wound will hurt France now, but its pain will continue to affect the refugees, Muslim or otherwise, long after the last bullet-ridden window pane is fixed. And it wasn’t just France that lost people. Morocco, Spain, Tunis, nationals from many countries were killed in the attack, “in revenge” for something they had no control over.

And Paris is the kind of city where people come together, a hub for travelers from across the world, discovering a beautiful city with a rich history, remarkable architecture and a good-hearted people. On my first trip there, I was slightly anxious. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, there were reports of hate crimes against Muslims, so I didn’t know what to expect. But my fears were alleviated on arrival; everyone was kind, helpful, welcoming. Which makes these attacks, to me, all the more heinous.

Social media, as usual, has misdirected the incident and broken it down into a series of talking points, arguments and other irrelevant drivel. Suddenly Paris is about defending “true Islam”, suddenly its about the bombing in Beirut, it’s about the forgotten Palestinian cause. A whole host of flags of different Arab countries become profile pictures, trying to out-number the France-flag picture in some kind of twisted competition. Those flags should be accompanied with the slogan “I only express solidarity with Arab countries when a Western one is attacked.”

In this tangle of self-righteous expression, the message of global solidarity against a merciless terror is lost. Yes, Islam doesn’t advocate senseless slaughter, but clearly some Muslims believe it does, a problem we ignore in our scramble to reassure the rest of the world that we’re not secretly murderers. Instead, prove it to the world by working to prevent another massacre. Yes, the Beirut bombing was severely under-reported, but why would you take that out on the fallen in Paris? They didn’t ask to be gunned down and get media attention, so pay your respects and direct your anger to the wider problem. Yes, Syria and Palestine and Libya are all forsaken, but they won’t be remembered if you only bring them up to prove a point about misdirected media.

If one thing is to be concluded from all this, it’s that we’re all suffering, whether prolonged in years or in a sudden bursts. Instead of turning on each other, it would be wiser to turn on the enemy. Not the young men who are brainwashed and confused, but to the radicalization process itself, to the vacuum of opportunities and the lost chance at a decent life.

To Benghazi, all this arguing and anger and confusion blends into the background, along with the explosions. We’ve given up on profile pictures and empty hyperbole a long time ago, and have taken matters into our own hands. We are, very slowly, recovering, having to do it, as usual, by ourselves. Paris will recover too, and probably faster, because they have more support. I don’t resent them for that, I’m glad that they do, because I’ve had to witness the same nightmare first-hand and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. We’re both cities made up of a rich diversity with a passion for culture, we’ve both experienced the same shock and heartache from the same sick, twisted ideology, and we’ll both, in time, move on.

A Benghazi Resident’s Take on Michael Bay’s “13 Hours” Movie

Benghazi just can’t catch a break. As if an all-out war isn’t enough, the city is being vilified nation-wide by those who see the war as a misdirected endeavor, and the people of Benghazi are being accused of, yes, destroying their own city! I won’t point out the insensitivity and blatant ignorance of this stance. If you’ve been reading this blog over the years, you’ll be familiar with the slippery slope that led our city to the circumstances it’s in today. The war is horrific and it’s hurting us, but it was also an inevitability brought about by the same people currently pretending like there were other options.

One of the very first incidents that sparked the descent down this slope was the killing of American ambassador Chris Stevens. This event launched the start of Benghazi’s international vilification, as pundits and citizens alike decried the Libyan revolution and the international intervention that bolstered it. “We shouldn’t have gotten involved at all!” they screech, oblivious to the fact that if NATO hadn’t intervened on March 19, 2011, there would be a pile of cold ash where I’m currently sitting. Vacuous terms like BenghaziGate and Benghazi Truther were coined by people who most likely could not point out Benghazi on a map. Possibly most comical of all, my city’s name has become almost permanently linked in the media with Hilary Clinton, a politician who hadn’t even seen Benghazi.

So you can imagine my ire one afternoon when I received a message from a friend with a Youtube link and the message, “watch this and start tweeting.” The link was for the trailer of the new “13 Hours” movie, based on the book by the same name. I had heard rumblings about this movie before, knew that it was being filmed in Malta, but other than that I dismissed it as just another attempt to cash in on the Libyan revolution. There have been myriad books and movies made dramatizing and/or analyzing the events of 2011 onwards, mostly from  Western journalists who seemed to have left their professionalism at the airport when they walked into this country. But this movie takes unprofessional and irresponsible Western arrogance one step further.

Pictured: Above, the actual city of Benghazi.  Below, NOT Benghazi.

Pictured: Above, the actual city of Benghazi.
Below, Malta, I guess? Basically some place that ISN’T Benghazi.

Right off the bat, the film starts off so very wrong. You get an overhead shot of a seaside Middle Eastern town. How can you tell it’s Middle Eastern? Why, there’s a dome and minaret! And all them Middle East places look alike, don’t they? It’s not like Benghazi has it’s own unique and rather gorgeous architectural composition accrued from various eras in its history. Nope, just show people a dome and tell ’em it’s Benghazi, same thing.

The opening shots are followed by a scene of Americans being stopped by armed men, who accost them in the standard “Hollywood Arab” accent. This scene sets the tone of the rest of the trailer, an explosion-laden standoff between “the good guys” (our valiant Americans) and the evil Benghazians who like to eat Westerners with their breakfast sfinz. It’s basically a sausage-fest filled with heavy artillery, fire and well-groomed beards. So, yeah, a typical Michael Bay flick.

Benghazi Boy Scouts, marching during a culture parade in the city. Not pictured: Flip flops

Benghazi Boy Scouts, marching during a culture parade in the city. Not pictured: Flip flops

Interspersed through the movie are clips of disheveled children wearing grimy flip flips, standard scenes for any movie on this region. If you don’t have domes and dirty kids in flip-flops, your audience may not recognize where the movie is taking place.

I think what primarily bothers me about the movie is that the people of Benghazi are either the gun-wielding terrorists or confused onlookers. What about the Libyan guards that lost their lives defending the compound? What about the regular citizens who arrived on the scene and tried to help the Americans? What about the medics who tried to resuscitate them? What about the protests the next day decrying the heinous and barbaric attack? Benghazi is well-known for its hospitality and kindness to guests, especially those from abroad. The terrorist attack that night was a shock to the entire city, it wasn’t just another day-in-the-life-of-an-Arab-city.

Scary Benghazi residents wielding frightening weapons. Cuz there's only one type, right Mickey?

Scary Benghazi residents wielding frightening weapons. Cuz there’s only one type, right Mikey?

What the movie will also probably ignore is the repercussions that the incident had on Benghazi. International organizations and offices all packed up and left, leaving the government with no real reason to resolve the security problem. On the contrary, they continued to indirectly support Ansar Shariah and the other militia groups, leaving Benghazi’s residents at the hands of unstable murderers. Our name was smeared in international media, becoming synonymous with conspiracies and chaos. Instead of being helped, we were shunned and ignored, left to combat terrorism on our own. This is a fight we’re still fighting to this day.

I know people will tell me not to jump to any conclusions til the movie is released, that it is, after all, just a movie. But many others have already pointed out that the release of this movie will coincide with Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign launch. So it seems that this entire movie boils down to the spoiled bickering of Americans as they grapple for power, using the murder of a good man to gain political leverage over one another. Not unlike Libyan politicians, then. Between all this, a beautiful city, my city, is reduced to so much hyperbole in a debate that lost relevance long ago.

Benghazi is not anyone’s conspiracy theory, and it sure as hell isn’t just a single unfortunate incident that defines a city with a rich history. Benghazi is Euesperides, a prosperous Greek city founded centuries ago. Benghazi is Berenice, a city named after princesses and queens. Benghazi is ‘the mother of the orphans’, lovingly named so by the orphans that make up this eclectic, strong, resilient city. Part of me is almost glad that the depiction of Benghazi in this movie is so hilariously inaccurate, because then people won’t associate the real Benghazi with it.

And who knows, maybe in the future, it an ironic twist, the term ‘Michael Bay’ will be adopted into colloquial Benghazi speech to refer to a colossal, factually incorrect screw up.

Timeline: Benghazi in 2014

This has been without a doubt the worst year for Libya in a long time. We’ve witnessed terrorism, war and the rapid erosion of the nation as a whole. Rather than celebrating the New Year, Libyans are left wondering and worrying in fear if their country will even still exist in 2015.

In the tradition of yearly recaps, I’ve compiled a timeline of events from my social media pages from January until now. With the speed that events have taken, it can be easy to forget everything we’ve gone through to reach this point, which ultimately leads to shallow and uninformed analyses of the situation in Libya. *cough cough*

What I’m including here are events that have had a direct impact on my life, as a citizen of Benghazi. Most of it is bleak, but there have been a few rays of happiness here and there. (Pictures are from photographer Fadellulah Bujwary’s page unless otherwise stated)


Football - 2014 CAF African Nations Championships - Final - Libya v Ghana - Cape Town

The Libyan National Soccer Team (Source)

January 30th: Fighting breaks out in several districts of Benghazi between the Special Forces and a militia known as Ansar Al-Shariah

February 1st: Libya wins the African Nations Championship after scoring 4:3 in the penalties round to Ghana. Celebrations across much of the country

February 7th: Protests across the country against the General National Congress, after announcement that it would be extending its stay in power

February 14th: Retired general and Benghazi revolutionary’s commander Khalifa Heftar delivers a speech declaring that the GNC must be suspended and elections held to vote in a new government

February 20th: Elections across the country for the Council of 60, the constitution drafting assembly. Some cities, such as Derna, were unable to vote due to threats by armed groups and/or boycotters

Feb26th

Protester in Benghazi

February 26th: Protests and road blocks in many districts of Benghazi, sparked by anger at the continuing assassinations and deteriorating security situation of the city

February 28th: State of alert declared in Benghazi after 4 assassinations in one week. Protests continue in Benghazi.

March 5th: Special Forces commander Wanis Bukhamada’s son freed after being kidnapped by militia groups

March 11th: Ali Zeidan, Prime Minister of Libya, ousted by the GNC after a vote of no confidence

March 17th: A military college in Benghazi is bombed, killing and wounding several graduating recruits

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Hajer Abdulhamid, who survived a terrorist attack that killed her father

April 5th: Calls for a 10-day civil disobedience strike in Benghazi in response to the city’s deteriorating security situation

April 9th: A technician in the Libyan air force, Abdul Hamid Imam, died after a bomb planted in car exploded. His baby daughter and wife were in the car with him

April 19th: Municipal council elections held in Benghazi

Municipal council elections in Benghazi

Municipal council elections in Benghazi (picture from election council’s FB page)

May 3rd: The Electron Youth Forum, a 3-day event with activists from all cross Libya, opens in Benghazi, despite clashes the night before between Ansar Shariah and the Special Forces

May 8th: Najia Tayyeb, a women known for sweeping Benghazi’ seaside promenade since the revolution, was shot in a drive-by shooting

May 9th: Clashes between Ansar Shariah and the Special Forces in Benghazi

May 16th: Operation Dignity, an offensive led by Khalifa Heftar against Ansar Shariah and militia groups, starts in Benghazi. Benina International Airport closes due to attacks by Ansar Shariah

May 20th: The University of Benghazi closes indefinitely

May 26th: Muftah Bouzaid, prominent Benghazi journalist and political analyst, is assassinated

A pro-army, anti-terrorism protester in Benghazi

A pro-army, anti-terrorism protester in Benghazi

May 27th: Mohamed Zahawi, Ansar Shariah spokesperson, holds a press conference in which he states that America is their enemy and that they will fight all who support Khalifa Heftar

May 30th: Protests in Benghazi against the continued assassinations in the city and in support of Operation Karama

June 3rd: Fighting intensifies in Benghazi between the Libyan army under the banner of Karama, against Ansar Shariah and militia groups.

Salwa Bugaghis voting in the Parliamentary elections, hours before she was killed

Salwa Bugaghis voting in the Parliamentary elections, hours before she was killed (picture from Salwa’s FB page)

June 25th: Parliamentary elections held across Libya. Derna and Kufra do not participate due to armed groups. Lawyer and activist Salwa Bugaghis murdered inside her home in Benghazi

June 28th: Ramadan begins in Libya

July 8th: Daily multiple assassinations in Benghazi since the start of Ramadan

July 13th: Militias from surrounding cities attack Tripoli International Airport

July 17th: Fariha Berkawi, former GNC member, assassinated in Derna

July 23rd: Fighting escalates between Ansar Shariah + militias (now calling themselves The Revolutionary’s Shura Council) against the Special Forces

July 26th: The Benghazi Revolutionary’s Shura Council (BRSC) makes a statement demanding that the results of the Parliamentary elections be cancelled

July 29th: Continued attacks on the Special Forces base by the BRSC leads to their retreat out of Benghazi

August 1st: Reports that Ansar Shariah declares Benghazi an ‘Islamic emirate’. Large protests in Benghazi in support of the army and against Ansar Shariah and the BRSC.

Pro-army, anti-terrorism protest in front of Tibesti Hotel, Benghazi

Pro-army, anti-terrorism protest in front of Tibesti Hotel, Benghazi

August 4th: The democratically elected House of Representatives convenes in Tobruk due to the unstable situation in Benghazi

August 13th: The House of Representatives ratify a law stating all militia groups must disband

August 24th: Tripoli International Airport is set on fire by Misrati militias. Assault by Ansar Shariah continue on Benina International Airport

10686722_768272909900871_6066513142209257968_nSeptember 19th: Tawfik Bensaud, one of Benghazi’s most prominent activists, is assassinated, along with his friend and fellow activist Sami Elkwafi. They are the 13th and 14th assassination attempts of the day.

September 29th: UNSMIL organizes peace talks in Ghadames between all sides. They fail to produce any tangible change

October 2nd: Activists in Benghazi celebrate International Day of Peace

October 12th: The new school year in Benghazi is delayed indefinitely due to violence in the city

October 15th: The final phase of Operation Karama begins in Benghazi, starting an all-out war in the city between the Libyan army and the terrorist groups

October 31st: The Libyan army takes control of Selmani, among other districts in Benghazi

November 6th: The Libyan Supreme Court makes a vague ruling that the House of Representatives must be dissolved, under duress from militia groups

November 11th: Petition is circulated demanding that Benghazi be declared a disaster zone

December 3rd: The Libyan army takes control of the Bel’own district of Benghazi

December 23th: The Libyan army launches an assault on the Laithi district of Benghazi. Ansar Shariah, who control the area, kill several civilians and burn houses in retaliation

December 26th: Over 1400 violent deaths in Benghazi this year (source)

Dispatches from Benghazi: Crisis Alert

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October 2014| A makeshift barricade outside Buhdaima, a district targeted by missiles and car bombs.

It has been exactly one month since the last phase of Operation Karama began in Benghazi, launching a full scale street war in the city between the Libyan army and the terrorist group calling itself ‘The Revolutionary’s Shura Council’.

Today also happens to be the one year anniversary of the Gharghour massacre in Tripoli, in which a militia went on a murder spree in our nation’s capital. It is a depressing fact that those who participated in this massacre are now controlling Tripoli, in a fashion very similar to Gadhafi’s grip on the city during the Libyan revolution.

But I’m not posting today to complain some more about the war (which sucks) or to reminisce on past crimes (which also suck). No, this post is more of a plea. If you are from an aid agency or humanitarian group, or if you know someone who is, Benghazi needs your help.

Benghazi is currently facing a major humanitarian crisis. A petition is being circulated, started by a group of Libyan activists, which demands that Benghazi be declared a disaster zone. While groups like the Libyan Red Crescent and the ‘We’re Benghazi’s Family’ campaign are doing their best to help people, they can’t do it alone. There are several issues the city is currently dealing with.

Piles of trash outside a public building in the Laithi district

Piles of trash outside a public building in the Laithi district. 

1) Environmental Crisis: Because mobility has become restricted in the city due to the fighting, no one has been collecting the garbage. It’s been piling up, and while there have been several attempts in various neighbourhoods to clean up the trash, it’s not enough.

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Refugee supplies being stored in a classroom, in one of Benghazi’s public schools. (Photo courtesy of Idris Elbadri) 

There’s been a noticeable increase in flies and other insects, which could potentially spread diseases, and this could get worse as we transition further into the rainy winter season.

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A classroom inhabited by one of the families from Bu’Atni, who have been here for months. (Photo courtesy of Idris Elbadri)

2) Refugee Crisis: Several areas have been evacuated in Benghazi due to the intensity of the clashes, including Sabri, Souq Al-Hout, Selmani and Garyounis. Those who do not have family members to stay with must seek refuge in public schools. These schools are already hosting several families from the previous months’ fighting, and more schools are being opened as the number increase.

IMG_20141106_100322

An apartment in Garyounis caught fire after a rocket hit it.

3) Infrastructure Crisis: Street warfare is the clumsiest type of war, because you can’t ensure what your weaponry will hit. Several houses, public buildings and utilities have been hit by stray artillery, and Benghazi’s infrastructure was already bad to begin with. The University of Benghazi is currently part of the battle field as the militia groups hide inside the campus buildings, and the damage has been reported to be extensive.

4) Financial Crisis: With the closure of the banks, people are finding difficulty in purchasing essential products as their available cash depletes. Those who run private businesses are also facing heavy losses to their livelihood.

There have also been reports of food and medicine shortages in some districts, an education crisis because schools and university have been closed, along with other problems, but I think you get the general idea. Telecommunications have become limited in the city, which is why not many people realize the full extent of the crisis here. The United Nations is currently engaged in a political tug-of-war and have all but ignored the human aspect of Libya. The Interim Government and House of Representatives have also been less than helpful. Regardless of which side you support, the safety and security of civilians should come first.

Election Anxiety

(I wrote a more professional post on the elections for Libyan Youth Voices, which you can check out here)

*flips calendar* 

Oh my God. Tomorrow’s the 25th? The parliamentary elections are tomorrow! Okay, just be cool. It’s not like these are possibly the most critical elections in Libya’s history or anything.

Wait, what? They are? Hehe. Okay, no worries. *sweating and panicking* But, I mean, I’m just one vote, it’s not like I could single-handedly undermine the nation or anything.

Weeell. Technically, two votes. And you could be responsible for voting imbalance.

What is that?

Say you and the majority of denizens vote for the best candidate on the ballot. Any of the other lesser candidates could also gain a seat from their supporters, without needing a large amount of votes. This means that unpleasant people (like former GNC members who are running) have a chance at winning. Remember, if you live in Benghazi, 20 candidates will be chosen for the House of Representatives, 16 men and 4 women.

So, who should I vote for?

Everyone has own their method of choosing the ideal candidate. For a lot of people, being affiliated with a certain political party *coughMBcough* is enough to reject candidates. Others look for family name and status, activism, political ideology and so on.

I think that the best thing to do is to vote for someone who represents you as an individual. If you’re in the youth demographic, vote for a youth candidate. If you’re in civil society, go with the activist. But check their background and history and ensure that they’re someone you can trust with your voice. Don’t just vote for whomever your parents like. And certainly DON’T vote for former GNC members.

Ugh, but how will I know which candidates I can trust? That would require a lot of work and research.

Pretend like it’s a quiz. Except if you fail, YOUR COUNTRY COLLAPSES.

Day 1 of the debates

Day 1 of the debates

The three-day debates in Benghazi were a great way to familiarize yourself with some of the candidates. There’s nothing like blatantly asking a potential representative if they supported extremist groups and then watch them flinch at the question to let you know they’re not very trustworthy.

But I wasn’t kidding when I said these elections are absolutely critical. It’s not just the fear of voting for the wrong candidate (confession: I voted for Salah Jaouda in the GNC elections and yes, it’ll haunt me for a very long time) but also the fact that, if these guys fail us the way the previous government has, Libya is done for. With the extremists vs. Hifter showdown in the skies and streets of Benghazi, and the political tug-of-war in Tripoli between various militias, the country has never been more fragile. At risk of dropping a drama-bomb (pun totally intentional), our hopes are riding on the success of these elections and those who win. 

I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a to-do list for the Parliament members once they’re sworn in:

  1. Kick the GNC out the door (and preferably into a courtroom)
  2. Visit Derna and the South and figure out what the hell is going on there
  3. Security
  4. More security
  5. Constitution confirmation (affirmation? I don’t know what the legal term is)
  6. Security
  7. Working traffic lights would be nice, with someone to enforce them. And better roads maybe? Replacing car tires is expensive
  8. Are you in charge of the borders? If so, do those. (And by do, I mean construct a 10 meter high electric fence with rabid pit bulls guarding it.)
  9. Fight crime and corruption so hard that people will write songs about you to sing to their grandchildren

As you can see, we need to work on literally everything. Many candidates have said that now is not the time for development but stabilizing. While this is true, its also depressing, because the longer it takes to calm things down, the longer we have to wait to see a better Libya.

Yeah that’s right, I said ‘a better Libya’, you snickering pessimist. While a betting man wouldn’t touch those odds, it’s not like we’ve got a spare country to retreat to.

So, yeah, basically, vote smart. If you don’t, and our country regresses further into a lawless jungle, I’ll be the first to raid your house.

(For the arabic version of the candidates article, you can find it here)

Conspiracies and Karama

“But it is horrible… …to fear the place you once loved.”

 Erica Bain

The revolution has really taken its toll on Benghazi. We go from one problem to another, all the while trying to keep a positive outlook and pray that, insha’Allah, things will eventually get better.

After more than two years and 150 assassinations of the police and army, the Islamists* have finally been hit back, and by no one other than Khalifa Hiftar.

Remember that guy I told you about a few months ago, with the half-hearted coup? Well, it seems he had bigger plans than anyone had anticipated. He has declared a war against terrorism, under the name of Operation Karama. What makes this proclamation more powerful than his previous one is that he now has the might of the Libyan National Army behind him.

What army, you ask? Well, the Special Forces, the Navy, the Air Force and pretty much every military unit in East Libya. They are the ones who have borne the brunt of the attacks, so it makes sense that they will join an operation that seeks to protect them.

Many have asked why the army didn’t act before Hiftar appeared on the scene. The truth is, they have tried numerous times to secure Benghazi, each time ending badly for them. No matter how bad it got, they refused to use force against other Libyans.

Another important question that’s being asked; who are the terrorists?

This is where things get murkier.  Ansar Shariah are known for their anti-democracy sentiment, and have been oddly silent on the issue of the assassinations in Benghazi. There has also been increasing rumors of Al-Qaeda affiliates controlling the city of Derna. These are the people considered the number one target for Operation Karama.

But what about the “thuwar” (revolutionaries/rebels, depending on what you think of them)? They’ve declared Hiftar’s operation to be a coup and an attack on Libya itself. They staunchly defend their militias and claim that they are not involved in the violence in Benghazi.

The current situation has divided Libya deftly in two. The pro-Heftar camp (mostly in the East, those who are directly affected by the violence) say that he is the last hope for a dying city that has been ignored by government and international community alike. The anti-Heftar side claims that Hiftar has skeletons in his closet where the Chad war is concerned, and that his public renouncement of the GNC is a blatant grasp for power and will destabilize Libya.

The government itself has also been divided in two. The provisional government has made statements that clearly indicate a schism between them and the General National Congress, currently headed by Ahmed Maetig, who is holding the position illegally.

The GNC, meanwhile, is pretending like nothing out of the ordinary is happening. They’re pretty consistent in their behaviour.

Many parties, both in and out of Libya, have said that the parliamentary elections, due to be held this June, is crucial to restoring order to Libya. Until then, Heftar has continued to carry out his attacks against the armed groups in Benghazi, in what can be described as a rather precarious and clumsy manner.

The most ubiquitous question being asked now between Libyans is, “Who’s side are you on?

The extreme polarization that we’re facing as a nation has broken apart families and friends as everyone clings to their own ideology, being sustained by the social media group of their choice. What’s sad about it is that, as we bicker, the country is crumbling around us.

It’s also irritating because, ultimately, we all want the same thing; security, stability, prosperity, a country we can be proud of and yes, dignity. It’s almost baffling how a country that agrees on these basic points can be so torn apart.

But it’s because we feed on conspiracy theories and jump to slander the other side that we’ve lost sight of the ultimate goal, which is a better Libya. We’re still in the infancy of our democracy, and frankly, we need to grow the hell up.

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* I hate using the word “Islamists”, even though that’s the term used to identify them in the media. There is nothing Islamic about their behaviour by any stretch of the imagination, and associating that term with them is insulting to actual Muslims.

Three Years On

The days leading up to February 17 in Libya have been a mixed bag of emotions for the citizens, most of which became overwhelmingly negative after the Libyan Scouts building was bombed on the eve of the three year anniversary of the revolution. As an independent civil society organization with no political affiliations, this cowardly attack on the Scouts has left everyone confused.

It’s these unexplained attacks and assassinations that has brought down the collective spirit of the Libyan people these past months. Is this all we’ve accomplished? Is this why we had a revolution, so we’d become a haven of criminals and corrupt politicians?

For this reason, a lot of people have sworn that they will never celebrate as long as Libya continues to break apart. Celebrate when there are finally achievements worth celebrating.

But it’s unfair to say that nothing good has come out of the revolution. The fact that we can even discuss the state of the country and criticize our ineffectual government is in itself an achievement.

So we can talk, so what? It’s not like we’re doing anything useful with our words. 

Unlike the politicians on T.V. or the slacktivists on social media, some people are actually taking advantage of this freedom of speech to do something good. There have been countless campaigns in school across the country to raise awareness on issues of breast cancer, AIDS and domestic violence, to name a few.

But what about real change on the political front? Our government is still playing us for fools.

Except the government has realized that we’re no longer buying into their empty promises. The last protests against the GNC extension were well organized and peaceful, and sent a powerful message that the people can still unite together against perceived oppression. The candidates for the constitution elections are doing more to earn the trust of the people.

And the steady rate of crime? What kind of democracy has a weak police force?

Crime is not unusual in Libya. But unlike the Gadhafi-era days, we had never heard about any incidents. With the growth of local media and the increased use of telecommunications, news spreads faster and reaches a larger audience. That doesn’t mean that our security situation is great, but we have to be realistic.

What about all the corruption? Everyone from the higher-ups to small company administration are involved in embezzlement, nepotism, etc.

Is this news to you? Did the corruption problem suddenly hit us after the revolution? We’ve always had corruption. But we’ve never had this level of transparency and accountability before. It’s not ideal, but it’s a start.

Life under Gadhafi was less stressful. At least I didn’t have to hear bombs every night.  

It’s selfish to assume that just because life under Gadhafi was great for you, it was great for everyone. Despite being an oil country, we have low rates of poverty, no infrastructure and a weak economy. The absence of bombs doesn’t make a significant difference. Not to mention the fact that it was Gadhafi who was actively destroying the country.

But now we have dozens of Gadhafis! And we can’t even identify half of them.

So should we wait another 42 years to fight them? It doesn’t matter what the face of tyranny and oppression look like, they should be battled with the same passion and fervor. Except instead of RPG’s and anti-aircraft missiles, we have to utilize a different set of weapons; namely education, tolerance and unity.

So what have we achieved in the three years since those first days of our awakening?

We’ve become more aware of the difficulties of rebuilding Libya. People kept saying “it won’t be easy”, but we had high expectations from the start, and we allowed the failure of reaching these expectations to bring us down. We’re now more realistic not just of the obstacles but of our own weaknesses. Set attainable goals, like solving the electricity problems, instead of goals like “looking like Dubai”.

To give up on Libya after everything we’ve been through is to cheapen the blood of those who gave their lives so that we could have one more day to fight. When we say it’s NOT EASY, we mean that we will have to deal with heart-break and frustration and differences of opinions, along with everything else; this is part of human nature and therefore part of the struggle.

Some people have an endless supply of pessimism that they love to share with the world; it doesn’t mean you should give them credibility because you’re feeling skeptical.

Celebrating this day is a way to to take a break from all the turmoil, to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go but that we have the opportunity to progress. We’ll make mistakes and learn from them. But to give up is to stay that there is no more chance for progress and growth, which is fundamentally incorrect.

Do you remember the Scouts I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They cleared up the wreckage in their headquarters, decorated it with flags, and went out to celebrate. That’s the spirit Libya is made of.