76 Hours in Tripoli

 

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Near the Tajourian seaside

For all my aggressively pro-Benghazi sentiment, there’s a special place in my heart for Libya’s capital city. Large, loud, bustling, with excellent coffee that almost makes up for the traffic congestion, the indifferent enormity and beauty of Tripoli is like a haughty love interest. I enjoy glimpsing a shadow of Benghazi in the Italian facades of downtown Tripoli, or the pedestrians walking down the seaside. But the accent of the passersby shatters that illusion; hearing ‘halba‘ instead of ‘wajed‘, or seeing the black shenna atop the heads of old men on street corners, instead of the distinct crimson of the East, reminds me of where I actually am.

No Libyan will admit this, in our long-standing tradition of stubbornness, but we love visiting other regions and cities. It’s that feeling of being not-quite-away from home, but far enough that you notice the small differences, which I think we find endearing. My Libya travels have been contained to the East, which makes the rare trips to the capital all the more exciting. West Libya is an entirely foreign place to me, while the South is still more of a mystery. (I’ve still unsuccessfully been able to visit Fezzan, but it hasn’t stopped me from continuing to try)

This trip was marred by the Libyan conflict, as everything is nowadays. “Are you sure it’s safe to go?” “I heard they kidnap Shergawis.” “Tripoli is not what it used to be, don’t be surprised when you arrive.”

The airport was bigger than I expected, and knowing that there wasn’t a three-hour car ride ahead of me (a la Labrag) was enough to keep me in high spirits. Driving around the city, I picked up on the familiar patches of the skyline, re-learning the architecture. There were more bullet holes in Tripoli then when I last arrived over two years ago, and the people a bit more forlorn. But there was also a lot of life, a persistent need to keep going, an unwillingness to succumb to the situation. The ugly rumors online about how terrifying Tripoli had become are as unfounded as the reports of Benghazi’s complete destruction. But people persist in these rumors, because we have developed a hideous sense of victory when we hear of a rival city’s demise, as though this failure justifies our petty political beliefs.

“There’s Bou Sita, if you look hard you can see the boat that Sarraj sailed in on.” It’s a new joke, but there’s nothing funny about the very serious armoured cars guarding the naval base. Around the city, you can spot stenciled graffiti in support of the GNA, but it’s not convincing. Real graffiti is not that meticulous, not that earnest in its message. These suspicions were confirmed by people I spoke with. “We had hope in them at first, but not anymore. What have they achieved?”

It was hard to get used to hearing from people in Tripoli that some of the militias are keeping the peace. Militias are all bad, aren’t they? We uncompromisingly rejected them in Benghazi,  a decision whose consequences we’re still facing. But it’s all for the ultimate greater good. Isn’t it? But Tripoli isn’t Benghazi, and their situation is not our situation. In Benghazi we don’t have tens of thousands of IDPs from other cities all seeking refuge, we don’t have the debilitating political expectations from unseen outside forces. When situations go to their extreme, we lean on one another. But in Tripoli, it’s every man for himself. Which is why I have to accept that, whatever my feelings are, my opinions are irrelevant to this city. اهل مكة ادرى بشعابها, as they say.

Another thing about Tripoli that is both endearing and embarrassing is that I’ve never spent a dinar there. I go from friend to friend, being hosted in that famed Libyan hospitality, and fights over the bill always end up with me losing to the argument of “You’re our guest!” Even when buying fruit at a kiosk, the vendor dismissed me with a wave of his hand as I try to pay, saying “Next time,  المرة الجاية.” I unconvincingly tell friends, “I’ll be hosting you when you visit me in Benghazi soon,” both of us knowing that they won’t be visiting Benghazi soon, that I don’t even want them to see Benghazi when it’s like this, with its rubble and its anger.

You don’t have to go far to find Benghazi anger though. Tripoli hosts thousands of Benghazi families who have fled the East, some unable to return because their neighbourhood still isn’t under LNA control, and some because it is. For the latter, it’s a self-imposed exile, a decision that hasn’t been taken without some measure of bitterness. I’m acutely aware that being able to travel freely between cities and regions in Libya has become something of a luxury.

In the morning of my departure, I bought an early-morning cup of coffee from a nearby kiosk. In Benghazi, as a woman, I could never stand in a line with a group of sleepy-eyed Libyan men at a coffee kiosk. But my visitor status to the city affords me this brazen opportunity. I walk around for a bit taking in the morning air, forgetting for a brief moment the war, the hatred, the divided country, and enjoyed being a regular citizen visiting the capital city of her country.

Tripoli is also where I first met Tawfik Bensaoud, during that last trip two years ago, ironic considering that we’re both from Benghazi. We had our first real conversation waiting at the airport gate for our flight back. I don’t remember what we talked about, probably politics or civil society, but I remember being content. Tawfik is gone, and the airport is gone, but Tripoli is still here, Benghazi is still here. We can only go forward now.

 

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An Open Letter to Prime Minister Faiez Serraj from a Benghazi Resident

Dear Prime Minister Sarraj,

I guess I should start by commending you on entering Tripoli as peacefully as possible. In a country where any political move can set off a chain reaction of violence acts, this is a promising achievement.

I have to be honest. The idea of a unity government has never really appealed to me. It is centered on the concept of pandering to a corrupt group of politicians and war lords who refuse to hand over power, and flies in the very face of the principles of democracy that we destroyed our country to obtain. It feels not like achievement, but like blackmail.

But, what is right in theory and necessary in practice are occasionally two very opposite things. I have watched my city become torn apart by extremist groups and plunged into an ugly war. I have seen friends in Tripoli live in fear and dread under militia rule. I have heard heart-wrenching accounts of Libyans in Fezzan as they describe a deplorable way of life in complete isolation from the rest of the country.

For this reason I support you, and I support the Government of National Accord. Not because it is right, but because the current situation is unacceptable and intolerable, and we have no one else.

But trust that is begrudgingly given, Mr. Sarraj, can be easily revoked. You have not one, but two failed governments to learn from. Do not repeat their mistakes, for the appalling state of Libya today lies mainly on their shoulders. The General National Congress allowed itself to become fragmented and manipulated by illegal armed groups, and allied themselves with the devil. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, sat in a safe, stately castle, fanning the flames of war, as they watched Libyans suffer below, ignoring their pleas for help.

I’m sure you have a team of advisers and analysts telling you the same things I’m writing here. But I am writing it to you because I am living in the middle of it. Your success to me will not be a political achievement, it will be the return of life to my city, to my country. And your failure will mean our doom. Whether we want it or not, our lives are intertwined with yours, and my support comes from my sense of self preservation. Don’t ever forget that.

If there is only one thing you can do differently from your predecessors, please make it that you listen to the people. Our demands have become very basic, but that doesn’t mean you should only provide the bare minimum human needs and consider your job done.

Your job is also not to return Libya to the state it was in following the end of the revolution in 2011, because it was that period that eventually got us here. I ask you, on behalf of a nation sick of instability, to be the Prime Minister that finally puts a stop to the “thuwar” mentality. We do not want a revolution, we want a country. Not a country for Benghazi, or a country for Misrata or Tripoli, but a country for everyone.

Be the Prime Minister that doesn’t accuse youth of taking pills when they protest, but instead ask why they are protesting. Be the Prime Minister who, instead of propagating conspiracy theories about his opponents, reconciles with them. Be the Prime Minister that finally puts a stop to the destruction, instead of being another contributing factor towards it.

You and I are both architects. We know how to design spaces and cities for people to exist in, to live in. And we both know that even the best laid designs can fail to meet the needs of the people. We are not asking for fantastical plans and lofty goals; we just want some semblance of normal life. We want to go to work or school without fearing falling missiles. We want to travel without being treated like pariahs in other countries. We want justice, and security, but also freedom. Yes, freedom. We are weak, but that does not mean we want another set of chains on our wrists in exchange for security.

You are in a position of power, and you may be tempted to make restricting decisions. But never forget, Mr Sarraj, that Benghazi, even when broken, will not tolerate those who lord power over it. Work with us, not against us, and let us save Libya together.

Yours sincerely,

Nada Abdulgader

Benghazi Libya

March 31, 2016

The Peculiar Power of Libyan Flags

The other day I was listening to a favorite podcast of mine, 99 Percent Invisible, which covers the history of designed objects. One aspect of design that the podcast is obsessed with is that of flags. As I listened to one flag-centric episode, it was mentioned how people generally never put much thought into the design of a flag, but at the same time tend to have an emotional reaction to the sight of a flag; whether proud, angry, wary, whatever.

This got me thinking about the Libyan flag, and the many emotional reactions I’ve seen over the years. It’s remarkable the strange journey this otherwise innocuous piece of cloth has been through. Like everything else in our country, the Libyan flag (or flags, rather) has a history of grandeur, controversy and violence.

Flag of Barga, next to a picture of King Idris, and the Benghazi municipal hall plaza (Seen on a bulletin board in Benghazi University, 2013)

Flag of Barga, next to a picture of King Idris, and the Benghazi municipal hall plaza
(Seen on a bulletin board in Benghazi University, 2013)

Let’s wind the clock back to the mid-19th century. It’s the era of the Ottoman empire, and a dark green flag with three crescent moons flies in Tripoli, the flag of the Tripolitiania Wilaya. This is one of the oldest Libyan flags known, but it represents an occupation rather than a proper identity.

Over in Cyrenaica, the air is filled with dust from the construction site of the Benghazi municipal building, as the city turns into another key point for the Ottoman Empire. This building will be decked with a number of different flags over its lifetime. One such flag is what we know today as the flag of Barga; black cloth with a white crescent and star in the middle, which was raised after Cyrenaica broke away from Italian rule. A similar red flag was used in the French-controlled Fezzan around the same time, while a light blue flag, a green palm tree and a white star designated the Tripolitianian Republic. Before these three regions adopted their individual flags, a variant of the Italian flag dominated in Tripolitiania and Cyrenaica.

Tripolitanian Republic (top) and Fezzan-Ghadames Military Territory

Tripolitanian Republic (top) and Fezzan-Ghadames Military Territory (Source)

Now, why those colours and symbols, you wonder? I actually have the same question, although one can assume that not much thought was put into the design the flags during that turbulent time. Of the three, the Tripolitianian flag, while being the most garish, also seems to have the most symbolism. A green palm tree, common in Libya, and which acts as a frame of our ocean views, and a light blue background, a colour you see often while strolling in Tripoli, whether sky or sea.

I did some digging, but I couldn’t seem to find any resources that could shed light on the meanings behind the flags. If you ask around, people will often give you romantic answers about martyrs and religion and things like that, although who knows, that could be the reasoning behind the designs.

But anyways, I digress. When Libyan independence was declared by King Idris in 1951, the first Libyan flag was born. According to this Wikipedia page, the flag of Barga (the province formally presided by King Idris) was used, with red added to symbolize blood and green to symbolize prosperity. This design was the work of Omar Faiek Shennib, a key figure during the Senussi monarchy. Some have also remarked that the design of the flag is a mix of the three provincial flags (red for Fezzan and green for Tripoli, on a Barga backdrop). This may or may not have been intentional, but all good design manages to accrue multiple meanings over time. A reading of the ’51 Libyan constitution will highlight the strict guidelines for the flag’s exact design (I’m looking at you, people who unforgivably stretch it out and butcher it in Photoshop for your designs).

From 'Good Flag, Bad Flag', compiled by Ted Kaye

From ‘Good Flag, Bad Flag’, compiled by Ted Kaye

But this flag was only fated to fly for 18 years before the Fateh revolution/coup of 1969. Gadhafi experimented with pan-Arab flags before finally settling on a national flag; the infamous green. The first, and to date only, national flag that is a single colour in the history of vexillology. One could view this as a completely selfish move (deprive the nation of a strong symbol) or as a complete lack of design initiative. However, I think it was part of Gadhafi’s branding strategy; a green flag to go with the Green Book and the Principles of the Green Revolution. It is a personal flag that represents the Gadhafi ideology rather than a proper national symbol. Libya was Gadhafi and Gadhafi was Libya; that was the meaning behind the flag.

So it’s understandable that when, during the 2011 uprising, one of the first symbols to be burned was the green flag, along with the revolutionary ‘mathabat’ and, during a bonfire blaze that I’ll never forget, copies of the Green Book. And what became the symbol of the revolution? That’s right, the tri-coloured Kingdom of Libya flag, later to be known affectionately by Libyans as Bou-Najma-wa-Hilal.

But this move was not without criticism from supporters of the revolution. Even while young men were being killed in front of Benghazi’s largest military base, some Libyans took to social media to convince others not to change their profile picture to the tri-coloured flag, and not to rally under it. They didn’t want the association with the monarchy, a system they feared would replace Gadhafi because of the re-emergence of the flag. Instead, they asked people to use a picture of Omar Mukhtar, a politically-safe symbol that all Libyans could agree on.

But whether it actually was the association with the monarchy, or maybe because the colours were so bold and defiant, the tri-coloured stuck, and eventually made an official come-back as the Libyan flag. Buried for 42 years, and yet against all odds, it came back. Talk about the power of symbols, huh?

A sea of flags in front of Benghazi's courthouse rally, April 2011

A sea of flags in front of Benghazi’s courthouse rally, April 2011

I didn’t grow up in a very Libya-centric household, so the flag was definitely new to me. I think it was new to most Libyans as well, thanks to Gadhafi’s determination in completely burying and eliminating any old symbols. And even if you didn’t want a monarchy, it still represented a better, more honourable time for Libya.

Logos from the first ministries post-2011. I know we were in transition in all, but jeez, hire a graphic designer

Logos from the first ministries post-2011. (I know we were in transition in all, but jeez, hire a graphic designer)

And since symbolism is scarce in a country that acted as company name for a self-obsessed megalomaniac for 42 years, we totally abused it. To say that it was everywhere is not an exaggeration. Everyone owned at least a handful of flags, volunteers were painting every available public surface red, black and green, and the logos of government institutes and civil society organizations alike had some variant of the flag design. Now, while the colours may look nice on a flag, they were not very pleasing to see on, say, historic monuments. We reached a red, black and green saturation point (no pun intended), and with the development of Libyan graphic skills, we’re slowly moving away from (over)using the revolutionary colours.

But the tri-coloured flag of the Kingdom wasn’t the only one to appear in public plazas and protests. In Western Libya, another flag that was new to us began to wave in the wind; the Amazigh flag. In cheery yellow, green and blue stripes, with a bold red Tinfagh letter yaz in the middle, the Amazigh flag represents not a nation, but a people, and in Libya’s case, a minority oppressed by Gadhafi. The unfurling of this flag was, in its own way, another stance of defiance against the regime. (You can read about the design here, and it’s definitely rich in literal symbolism.)

But not everyone cares for this symbolism. Many Libyans don’t like seeing the flag (to put it politely), because of its perceived exclusionary nature; i.e. you’re not part of our race. It also represents a collective Amazigh identity that transcends borders, which makes some newly nationalistic Libyans a little uncomfortable.

A homemade Barga flag at a pro-federalism rally, Benghazi 2012

A homemade Barga flag at a pro-federalism rally, Benghazi 2012

Flag revival seems to have been the theme of the new Libya. Bring out your old symbols, brush off the dirt, and pick off where you stopped 42 years ago. Remember the black flag of Barga? When the federalist movement began to gain steam in 2012, they also needed a symbol. And what better symbol than the flag of the political province that they’re trying to revive? Suddenly black Barga flags began to appear more often, as calls for federalism and a more unified Barga identity began to strengthen.

This, too, was met with criticism, although of a much more furious nature. Detractors of federalism accused the movement of trying to divide the country. Suddenly the flag went from being a historic symbol to one of exclusion; like with the Amazigh flag, the black flag of Barga represents a subset of Libyans with their own distinct identity , history and demands.

Being the pro-federalist that I am, I promptly changed my profile picture to the Barga flag back in 2012, until the federalist movement began to move away from rights for Eastern Libya towards a more hostile, tribal-based ideology. I still like the flag, but unfortunately it has become too immersed in negative connotations today, and having a Barga flag profile picture may be seen as being associated with those connotations, the down side to flag symbolism.

And speaking of negative flag symbolism, the Gadhafi flag didn’t exactly go the way of the tri-coloured in 1969. Many people and cities who oppose the revolution still hang the Gadhafi green on their buildings, in defiance of an uprising that doesn’t represent them. Many groups in the armed conflict in Libya today use “evidence” of green flags among other armed groups as proof of being pro-Gadhafi and, in effect, fair game to attack. One group accused of charging in with green flags has been the Libyan army in Benghazi, who, in response, have increased the number of tri-coloured flags around their checkpoints and on their cars. Wars of symbolism can be fought just as feverishly as wars of guns and missiles, apparently.

During a workshop I attended to analyze draft of the new Libyan constitution, the article that mentions the flag came up. Now, you’d think, with crucial state-building and policy-making articles in the constitution, we wouldn’t give much time to an article about flag design. But no, we spent a good half hour heatedly debating whether or not the tri-coloured should be the Libyan flag.

Article 4, Ch.1 of the new constitution draft

Article 4, Ch.1 of the new constitution draft

Some said that it was a no-brainer, half the country’s already covered in the colours now anyways. But some said that, no, the flag doesn’t represent everyone. Those whose children died under the banner of the green would never vote yes for a constitution that enshrined the flag their children died fighting against. I spoke to a CDA member who told me that even among the Assembly, there were members who were against the tri-colour.

But surely we can’t bring back the Gadhafi green? The people whose children died fighting this flag wouldn’t agree either. So what’s the solution? One person in the workshop proposed creating a new flag, along with a new anthem, that would help to unite all Libyans under (literally) one banner.

I’m personally undecided on this issue, because on the one hand, while the tri-coloured represents the first Libya to me, I can’t deny that the flag has become heavy with other symbolism, much like the Barga flag. As the green became the brand of Gadhafi, the red-black-and-green has become the brand of February 17th, a revolution-turned-ideology that many Libyans no longer want to be part of, and that many Libyans do not feel they are a part of to begin with.

ISIS flag in the Benghazi Thuwar Shura Council HQ in Guwarsha, Oct 2014

ISIS flag in the Benghazi Thuwar Shura Council HQ in Guwarsha, Oct 2014 (Yes, the picture is from far away, but that’s as close as I ever want to get to those guys)

There’s one last flag I haven’t mention that has also adorned lamp posts and buildings in the new Libya; the infamous Alqaeda standard and the mortifying ISIS black banner. The former appeared as early as 2011, while the latter took its place in the subsequent years. Unlike the other flags, this has been met not with anger so much as cold fear. As Libyans continue their symbolic fighting over green, red-black-and-green, or an entirely new set of colours, this flag of death threatens to cover its inky blackness over all of Libya.


Jk, I wouldn’t want to end the post on such a dark note (pun totally intended this time).

At the end of the day, they’re just pieces of cloth sown together. They’re not much different than the pyjama shirt I’m wearing. And yet, we manage to saturate them with so much meaning, so many hopes and aspirations, and sadly, so much of our fellow countrymen’s blood, that they take on a life of their own. It is really wise to give so much power to such a symbolically malleable icon? Before you answer that, ask yourself if it’s okay to arrest a man for defacing that icon, or if you would break a friendship over it? Yes, the flag you hold is an extension of your beliefs, but do you want your beliefs weaved into something whose meaning can so easily change? There is always the fear that you begin to soak the many meanings of the flag, to change who you are, so that you feel justified in holding it, and thus allowing us to become controlled by our symbols.

Benghazi Lives, via Anas Benguzi

Benghazi Lives, via Anas Benguzi

A graphic designer friend of mine who, frustrated by the Gadhafi era, the 2011 revolution, regional sensitivities and the complete abandonment of Benghazi by the rest of the country, took matters into his own hands and designed the “Flag of Benghazi”. The aqua-green “ocean” represents the huthoor, people from West Libyan origin, while the reddish-brown “land” represents the people from bedu, or East Libyan, origin. These are the people who, in a country torn by East vs. West animosity, have managed to create a city for themselves to live together. The lighthouse sits on a peaceful white background, with the words “Benghazi Lives” emblazoned underneath. Unlike the politically or regionally-charged Libyan flags, this one captures the spirit of the city; its people. He only designed it as a response to the current situation, but if it ever gets proposed as an official city flag, I’m sure that it too will meet with controversy. In any case, it’s the only flag, in this long historical mess of flags, that I currently feel represents me.

How to Write a (Sloppy, Inaccurate) News Article on Libya

Whenever news topics become scarce, and continuously reporting on ISIS or Ebola starts to feel monotonous, MENA journalists often turn to their in-case-of-slow-news-day topic; Libya. Specifically, how Libya has become a failure, a monster, a pale shadow of the wonderful thriving nation it was once. [ironic citation needed]

I’ve read a lot of inaccurate, irresponsible, and at times, just plain yellow journalistic articles this past month. The structure is always the same; Heftar vs. Fajr Libya, Liberals vs. Islamists, an apocalyptic-style narrative fraught with gun-toting fighters and a few quotes from arbitrary citizens. Writing about Libya’s current conflict is a piece of cake, really. Factually correct? Meh, who cares, it’s not like they understand English anyways.

Possibly the most damning of these was an interview done by world-famous journalist Christiane Amanpour about Abdul-Hakim Belhadj. “He is the man who many say is the key to making peace in Libya,” she garbled.

Who many say“? I live in Libya and I’ve never heard anyone claim that about him. In fact, he’s been keeping a very low profile during this conflict. And if by “making peace”, she means stopping the crooked militias he has on a leash from destroying the country, then yeah, I can see her point.

It’s exactly this kind of bizarre reporting that has made many Libyans lose faith in journalists. People like Abdulsalam Mismary, Salwa Bugaighis and Tawfik Bensaud could have been key figures in making peace in Libya. But while they were brutally murdered, the people actively funding militias while living outside the country are the ones getting interviewed. Of course, the activists get limelight after their horrific deaths, but only as narrative tools to further make money/publicity off of the chaos in Libya.

And try as they might to be objective, Libyans have already categorized these journalists as ‘reliable, trustworthy sources’ or ‘dirty, dirty liars’, depending on whatever bias they present. And oftentimes it’s not just subjective reporting but downright deception. Examples include the use of the term ‘Tobruk’s parliament’ in reference to the Libyan House of Representatives, which gives the impression that there is more than one official government body (news flash: there isn’t), or extreme variations in the numbers of those killed and injured in clashes.

And no matter how often these journalists reiterate the point that the conflict in Libya is “complex”, it doesn’t seem to prevent them from writing up an over-simplified analysis, presumably to dumb down the story enough for their Western audiences to grasp.

In order to understand to the conflict in Libya, you have to go back almost four years ago to the beginning of the revolution, when the first alliances were forged. And even then, you won’t be able to see the full picture if you don’t understand the nuanced world of Libya’s societal, tribal and regional history.

Angry ranting aside, I decided to try out my own writing skills in a ‘Libya Op-Ed’, in the tradition of these shoddy pieces (if only to console myself with venting).

—–

Revolution Journal | Oct 6 – It’s another bleak, dark day in Libya as clashes continue. Heftar’s forces fight in one part of the country, Fajr Libya’s forces in another part, while something’s going on in that Southern part with all the sand.

Our sources can confirm almost with certainty that weapons are being used in the fighting, as tweets of ‘BOOM’ are being posted on a social media platform known as Twitter. We have also been able to discern from this site that the fighting is concentrated mainly in the key cities of Libya, namely Benghazi and Tripoli.  

The fighting is clearly drawn along ideological lines. Heftar’s lack of a beard indicates his liberal leanings, while cries of Allahu Akbar from Fajr Libya’s forces betray their Islamists loyalties. The flame wars in the comment’s section of Libyan Facebook pages are a worrying indicator of the dangers of this crisis. 

I spoke to one of my Libyan businessman friends about the conflict. “The situation is very difficult,” he said to us through Skype, from his McMansion in Britain. “The thuwar, known for their level-headed thinking and careful war tactics, are doing their best for Libya, but no one seems to appreciate that. The obvious solution here is to give them more money.” 

Another Libyan city has begun to play a role in this crisis; Tobruk. According to its Wikipedia page, Tobruk is a port city in Eastern Libya. In recent months, an authority calling itself the ‘House of Representatives’ has appeared in this city, much to the puzzlement of Libya experts everywhere. 

“For God’s sake, we were elected!,” typed one representative of this supposed government, in response to a Facebook message. “We couldn’t convene in Benghazi because it’s not safe. Do you people not read the news?” 

After some in-depth Google researching, it appears that there have been a string of assassinations and violence in Benghazi, dating as far back as 2012. We reached out to one Twitter user from this besieged city.

“lol yeah, it totally sucks,” typed user @libyateenqueen2003, clearly distraught. “i haven’t been able to shop for 2 weeks now. ” 

The international community has been vocal in their condemnation of fighting in Libya. “We call on every armed person to put their weapons down now,” said one UN representative, for the 12th time this month. He later told Revolution Journal in a private interview, “There have been some successes in the Libyan conflict. For one thing, the oil production is increasing, which is fabulous news for everyone. Our biggest concern now is that the fighting will extend to the oil fields, which might prompt us to actually do something. We can’t stress enough that no measure is too drastic to protect our fragile economy. Oh, yeah, and the people too, of course.” 

As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan (and virtually every other armed conflict in history), the presence of weapons and a lack of strong authority are usually not helpful when trying to rebuild a country. The meddling of other countries in Libyan affairs is also a contributing factor to the crumbling nation Libya has become. [No one from these other countries was available for comment]

Only time will tell what will happen to this oil rich country as extremism and instability take root [insert overused Iraq cliche here]. With every other horrible thing going on on the planet, we have to ask ourselves, does anyone even care about this forgettable African nation?” 

——–

[Just a gentle yet firm reminder that the above faux article is SATIRE, i.e. I’m making fun of other articles. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. Seriously.]

The Curious Incident of the Plane in the Night-Time

The average person occasionally wakes to the sound of birds in the morning. I woke up to the sound of a drone, lazily cruising through the skies of Benghazi. This was significant for two reasons; 1-We haven’t been paid a visit by the drone in a long time, since the capture of Abu Khattala in fact. 2-There were airstrikes in Tripoli this morning. 

The latter point is significant in itself because this is the first time planes have hit targets in Tripoli since 2011. But back then they were NATO planes. Whose planes were these? 

The Libyan Parliament, who convened in Tripoli on August 4th, voted recently on asking the international community to intervene to protect civilians. As soon as we heard about the planes, the first thing that came to mind was that foreign forces had entered the country. The Italian ambassador denied his country was involved, followed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and NATO. 

The Libyan Interim Government released a statement saying they didn’t know who was behind the strikes, which wasn’t exactly reassuring seeing as they’re the guys in charge. Just when we were beginning to wonder if it wasn’t a UFO or maybe a good Samaritan country who felt bad and decided to scare the militia, Heftar’s forces (i.e. the East Libyan Air Force) made a claim to the airstrikes. 

Which makes sense, in a way. They’ve been hitting militia bases in Benghazi for months now. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they had somehow managed to get planes to fly over Tripoli. 

Except that the Air Force Chief of Staff released a statement saying that the planes were foreign and not local.

Huh. Curiouser and curiouser. 

It could mean that Operation Karama forces managed to get their hands on new equipment, or that they’re getting assistance from other countries. They have been active in Benghazi with recent clashes, but this would be their first operation in Tripoli. 

As baffling as these air strikes have been, they have very serious implications for the militias on the ground. The Parliament has been clear in their demands for the militias to dissolve, being a major threat to civilian lives and the authority of the state. As strong as they claim to be, their disorganized structure make them easily susceptible to systematic aerial attacks. 

It also brings up the question of what will happen if the militias are bombarded. We don’t want a repetition of 2011, where we neutralize the immediate threat but leave ourselves exposed and unprepared for future regrouping and attacks. There are currently more weapons in Libya than there are citizens, and our army is unprepared and under-funded to deal with this catastrophe. 

And then there’s the issue of the country’s political schism. The city of Misrata has gained notoriety throughout much of the country because of their support for the current operation by their militias in Tripoli (named Operation Fajr). Last Friday there was a large demonstration in the city against foreign intervention, and their Parliament members (as well as a handful from other cities) have refused to go to Tobruk, claiming that holding sessions there is ‘unconstitutional’. But with the clashes in Benghazi and Tripoli showing no sign of stopping, the Parliament will not be moving out of Tobruk anytime soon. 

Instead of moving forward, Libya has taken several steps backwards. 3&1/2 years after the revolution we are still in a transitional stage and we haven’t learned to communicate and compromise. Political parties and extremists groups have taken the country hostage and are fighting to the death for power. At this point many people are sick of bickering about political ideals, not when innocent people are dying. If air strikes can at least stop the militias in their tracks, Libya might still have a chance at making it out of the ‘failed state’ category. 

 

Libya This Week

It’s been a pretty eventful week for Libya. It seems that periods of stagnant idleness are often followed by bursts of bustling activity. Of course, not everything that happened is good news. In no particular order:

1) Alcohol Poisoning in Tripoli: The making and selling of home-made alcohol is no secret to Libyans, but it’s a taboo subject that no one wants to admit.

However, the issue was unavoidable when hundreds of people were admitted to the hospital suffering from alcohol poisoning. Dozens have died so far, and the Health Ministry is working to contain the issue.

The nation is split on where to put the blame. Some say it’s the fault of those buying the contraband booze and they ‘deserve what they got’. Others blame lax security, while others still say society is to blame for ignoring these issues. The government says they will ‘crack down’ on illegal alcohol.

2) National Budget Announced: The country says a collective, “FINALLY”, as the GNC decide on a 66-billion dinar budget. A long time coming, the budget will hopefully help complete the projects that were stopped during the revolution. Prominent among these are the housing projects that are much needed in the ever-growing cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.

3) Gaddaf-Aldem Arrested: For those of you unfamiliar with Gadhafi’s frizzy-haired cousin, Ahmed Gaddafi-Aldem was responsible for rallying mercenaries for Gadhafi during the revolution, while hiding out in Egypt. Accusations have been aimed at him ever since for trying to stir up trouble in Libya post-revolution. His capture coincides with the celebrations in Benghazi for March 19th.

4) March 19 Celebrations: And finally, this week in Benghazi we celebrated the 2nd anniversary of March 19,2011, the day when Gadhafi forces attempted to enter and destroy Benghazi as a means of putting an end to the revolution. It was also the day when NATO implemented the no-fly zone over Libya. I wrote an article last year detailed the events, including the martyrdom of a few brave pilots, for whom this day is dedicated. You can read the full article here.

The highlight of the day was the unveiling of several new monuments around Benghazi, and a fantastic airshow. We also received a surprise visit from Nicolas Sarkozy.

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