The City as Barracks: Militarization of Benghazi’s Urban Space

The earliest memory I have of visiting the building site that would become our family home in Benghazi is the road; the long stretch of the Tripoli highway road seemed unending to a 14 year old, and the idea of living on the edge of the city was foreboding. But what caught my attention was the double row of concrete walls framing the road.

I would later learn that we lived near the ‘April 7th’ military camp, later renamed the ‘February 17’ military camp when it was taken over by armed protesters in 2011 and renamed once more after the 2014 civil war. I don’t know what the new name is, everyone in the city still knows is as the Feb 17 camp. Across from it is the Garyounis base, the site of Gadhafi’s historic radio announcement in which he declared a coup d’état against the kingdom.

Benghazi today is the site of numerous military camps. Those constructed under the Gadhafi regime during the time of his military paranoia and weapons stockpiling were placed in the peripheries of the city; Garyounis, Bu’Atni, Venecia. But the city has rapidly grown since then, swallowing the military camps and placing them in the middle of residential districts. The only exception was the Fatheel Bu’mar base near the city center, a re-purposed relic of Italian colonization (which in its time was also in the city’s periphery).

We no longer live at the ‘edge’ of the city, but the features of a once-peripheral neighbourhood are still there, from the military camps to the lack of phone lines. And it was these camps that led to our displacement in the war, along with the displacement of every neighbourhood that had barracks of some sort in them.

After the 2011 revolution/war, the military bases scattered throughout the city became the most strategically important sites, and the plethora of armed groups that emerged from the conflict all grabbed what they could. From then on, the sound of gunfire and explosions from training were ubiquitous in my neighbourhood, marking an era of militarization of the city.

But there weren’t enough military bases to go around, and several public buildings were taken over by armed groups as their headquarters. Where public buildings weren’t available, large tracts of land were purchased or taken by force. The old soap factory in Kuwaifya became the camp for the Libya Shield militia, Gadhafi’s farmland in Hawari turned into the infamous Rafallah S’hati barrack, run by a militia allied to extremist groups. These places did not become passive military camps like the days of Gadhafi but were sites of violence, inflicted terror on the neighbourhoods they were in; those living near Rafallah S’hati would find the decapitated bodies of victims of the militia group, the Libya Shield base was the site of frequent violent confrontations between the militia and protesters who wanted them out of the city.

After the outbreak of the 2014 war, the front lines were drawn around the barracks. Military tactics in the city revolved around capturing bases in order to gain weapons and ammunition, as well as free prisoners. These tactics led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and paralyzed life in the city. Four years later, the city is “liberated” but the bases remain.

The army’s “Military Investment Authority” is now radically changing the layout of the city. The Juliana beachside has been taken over by force in order to create a new military base. But the land grabbing is not limited to military aspirations alone, as houses and land in affluent neighbourhoods have also been purchased or taken over by force to make way for new developments, such as a mall that is being constructed in the already congested Bel’oun district. Focus is now being cast on the Benghazi bosco, one of the largest parks in the city. With the country still in a period of extreme volatility, now is the best time to establish control over land.

Citizens are trying to fight back, launching campaigns online and invoking Libyan land laws. Surprisingly there is a fear by armed groups of social media backlash, and for now sites like the bosco remains untouched. But demands for the dismantling of military bases continue to be futile. Our neighbourhood representatives – prompted by the incident of a stray bullet breaking through glass into a house – attempted to negotiate with the current management of the Garyounis base to at least reduce the military training that goes on, but with little success.

These bases are extending throughout the city, turning Benghazi into a military town, and similar phenomena is felt in Tripoli, Sirte, Ajdabiya and elsewhere. As long as the conflict between opposing groups in Libya continues, the bases won’t go away, as all parties wait in anticipation of the next war.

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Film Review: Freedom Fields, and the Perpetual Struggle for Choice

I’ve been in London for three weeks now, and I’m already dreadfully homesick for Libya. I know right now that every Libyan’s dream is to get out of the country, but there is so much emptiness (at least for me) outside the enclosure of our society. There’s no familiarity here, and it’s probably a side-effect of the war but I’m finding it difficult to bond with people who haven’t been through that same experience that I have. I’m probably being annoyingly pretentious to my Libya readers (my double-shafra-ness is showing *hides in shame*) but there you have it. Home is home, even if it’s broken.

I got a chance to briefly go back when I attended the screening of the documentary ‘Freedom Fields’, which chronicles the struggles of the Libyan National Women’s Soccer Team (“football team” for you annoying non-North Americans). I got a ticket by being my Libyan self and looking for a wasta (connection) because it sold out quite quickly. I’m sure you’re digging through your memories right now and remembering ‘oh yeah, there was a thing about a women’s soccer team a few years ago’. There was a lot happening in Libya back in 2012 and after the sensation died down we didn’t hear about the team anymore.

This film covers what did happen after the huge controversy, and follows the lives of these women over five years. Specifically it covers three main storylines; Na’ma, a Tawerghan woman living in a camp in Tripoli who’s circumstances have given her a nothing-to-lose iron will; Halima, a bombastic and passionate doctor-to-be; and Fadwa, an ambitious and headstrong young woman.

I think the film is geared more towards foreign audiences, to give them a rare glimpse into the lives of Libyans, but it really struck a chord with me as a Libyan viewer, simply because even we don’t have access to the kind of media that gives us a perspective on how different Libyans across the country live (how many of us have seen the inside of a Tawerghan camp?) but also how similar we all are (that constant societal pressure for women to get married and ‘settle down’ affects us all regardless of tribe or social class). The women portrayed in the movie could have been anyone I know, neighbours or friends or colleagues. For this reason the movie felt so personal to watch.

This point is particularly notable for me (and I believe for other Libyans) because I’m sure many people never looked into the issue of the women’s soccer team, we never realized that behind the controversy and Facebook wars, there were regular Libyan women who just wanted to play soccer (which is not that outlandish an idea, women have always played sports in Libya, it’s just that they’ve never played so visibly before). It’s incredibly sad to realize this in hindsight but the lost battle of the team set the tone for all the struggles that activists fought after the revolution, as our rights as women and citizens were put on the chopping block. If we had known this now, I think more people would have been vocal about this cause back in 2012.

The filmmaker is British-Libyan Naziha Areibi, who came to the premier decked out in a farmela and silver ‘abroug jewelry. She is completely invisible throughout the movie, acting only as a camera, but I’m sure that her relationship with the people played a large part in how she was able to shoot (and because Libyans aren’t the kind of people who would let you just passively watch but get you involved in the conversation), and it would have been interesting to see behind-the-scene footage into how the women interacted with this documentary process.

What I admired most about the structure of the film is that it is free from any kind of political or social statement. To be sure, there are a lot of political undertones in the film, but only in how it immediately ties with the lives of the players, and always told through their voice. You hear of the frustrations they have with a revolution that didn’t fulfill its promise of freedom, of the increasing isolation Libya faced after the 2014 war and all the restrictions that came with it. Even with the social aspect, you just see Libyans living their everyday lives, without any sensationalism or exaggeration. You know how merciless I get when it comes to representation of Libyans, but this film gets my Authentic Libyan™ seal of approval.

Being reminded of my own experiences as a woman in Libya, coupled with the heartbreak of what our country is capable of and yet unable to attain because of the situation, left me in tears at the end of the movie (it might have also been the homesickness). Yes there are still good and strong people in Libya who are trying to resist the hopelessness, but there is always that fear of how long they can last. How long can a person put up a fight and pick themselves up when they’re down, when the fight is against the very reality of your country?

This film is one of a few but growing number of media that covers Libya without casting the war as the main character, including the Tatweer Enjazi documentary on the entrepreneur contest of the same name, and the work of the Elkul channel. Yes, they are few and far in-between, but it’s a great start to begin magnifying Libyan voices and counter the wave of Western-produced garbage about our country.

I’m not going to spoil the film too much because you should definitely go and watch it for yourself. The next screening will be in Amsterdam, and the production team is currently trying to organize screenings inside Libya itself (if the situation permits). Whether you like it or hate it, as long as we can start a discussion in our country on what choices we give to our women and our society at large, maybe one day we’ll have a national women’s soccer team again.

Learning From A Revolution

Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come round again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.” ― Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

Here it is; the five year mark. You remember, don’t you? Standing in front of the courthouse, our faces flushed from the rally and the excitement, telling any journalist who asked us about our prediction for the new Libya, “Just come and see what it’ll look like in five years!”

We gushed about our “new country”, our arrogant enthusiasm justified by the innocent hope and happiness that underlined it, as though we already visited the future and knew with confidence what would happen. Hard to believe it’s only been five years. It feels like fifty.

Must be a record,”Fastest Destruction of a State”. Most effortless, too. We were so busy being tricked with all the parades and fireworks – the superficial festoons of freedom – that we didn’t notice the men behind the curtain, who came out and took apart the puppet show that we thought was real.

Five years later, we are shocked, ashamed, horrified. Those journalists we spoke to five years ago can’t even enter the country anymore to see the results of the revolution. We’ve lost everything in what one can argue is an ironic twist of karma, what we did to the pro-Gadhafi side is now being done to us by creatures more terrifying than they (or we, for that matter) ever were.

I always tell myself that I’m not going to write an anniversary post, after the third year when I slowly, painfully realized that it had become a sham, that the revolution and the achievements and the country weren’t really ours anymore. But that fateful day comes round, and I find myself reminiscing at how so much could change in such a short span of time.

The February 17 revolution, whether I like it or not, will always be a core event for me. It has left me with beautiful memories and a wretched life. It made me hopeful, it helped me discover my value as a person and unearthed new traits I didn’t know I had, it opened my eyes to a new outlook on life, and it turned me into a monster.

It never ceases to amaze me how an otherwise normal person, a member of society and a generally decent individual, can so easily be made to support massive amounts of violence, bloodshed and destruction. In any other setting, they would be horrified. But manipulated by ideology, influenced by the poisonous effect of mob mentality, they turn into something not at once evil, but at once repulsive, hideous.

This is what happened to me in 2011. I’m not trying to justifying my behaviour and beliefs during that time, by saying I became blinded by revolutionary fervor and lost myself in the din of possibilities, because there was a small voice, in the back of my head, who hesitantly pointed out the problems that were also appearing. I ignored that voice, allowed it to become lost among the screams of “Libya is free, Libya is free!” all around me. That’s on me.

Sadly, many Libyans have not learned from the mistakes of 2011. Instead, they have transplanted their obsequious cheerleading onto other, more fragmented causes. Those too, will fail them, and there will be an existential scrabble to find, or create, new belief systems, and on and on until there will be nothing left to believe in. One could look upon our situation and conclude that revolutions forge hope while war creates misery, but we couldn’t have had one without the other

The revolution was not built on mendacious or malicious reasons. We were fed up, people were oppressed and unjustly treated, the status quo needed to change. It was not for a love of chaos that we marched against the regime. But the moment the first black flag unfurled on the battle field, the moment the first family was forced out of their home for what they believed, we should have stopped. Taken a step back. Reassessed where the revolution was going. But we didn’t, pushed on by our own momentum, unable to assess anything, unable to feel anything but our own vague thirst of freedom.

We did stop, eventually, too late, suddenly realizing the setting we were in. Mouths agape, we ask in horrified voices, what happened? How could it all have fallen apart like this? Like those from whom the veil of madness is abruptly lifted, we gaze in awe at the very destruction we supported.

We sit now in our broken country, angry at ourselves, at each other, at anyone who comes near, disillusioned, hopeless, wishing we could turn back the clock five years earlier.

If I could go back in time to my young, foolish, naive 20 year old self, I would shake myself by the shoulders and shout, “Stop! Don’t do it! Thousands will sacrifice themselves for nothing! You will lose everything you hold dear! It’s not worth it!” But hindsight, they say, is 20/20. My younger, foolish, naive self will probably look at me, laugh, and say, “What are you talking about? Just come and see what it’ll look like in five years!”


When people ask me about the February 17 revolution, I don’t hesitate anymore in admitting that I regret being part of it, part of the movement it became that is still ongoing to this day. I think the turning point for me, the moment of revelation of “Oh crap, what have we done,” came sometime in 2013, when I realized that things weren’t going to end well in Benghazi. No one is denying that February 17 began with noble intentions, but it’s very difficult to extract what the revolution used to be from the movement we see today. Even without the numerous foreign elements that invaded the country, a lot of injustices were committed in the name of February 17 by Libyans themselves.  

What I’ll say is, I don’t regret protesting against Gadhafi, because while life under his rule was better, it was still horrible. He needed to know that we were fed up, that we wanted our country back and that we wanted to achieve our potential at citizens. I believe our mistake was in demanding a complete upheaval of the regime, because we had literally nothing to replace it with, and no experience or background in nation-building. No amount of revolutionary zeal and good intentions can run a country, and that was our fatal flaw. The ultimate goal was to improve Libya, and I believe that we could have, and should have, done it a much different way, one that didn’t involve creating sides and that didn’t lead to the large losses we see today.

 

Learning from Libyan Youth, and Dispelling a Few Benghazi Myths

Working group session (picture courtesy of Abdulkareem Dwaini)

Working group session (picture courtesy of Abdulkareem Dwaini)

Recently I was fortunate enough to participate in a workshop on the role of Libyan and Tunisian youth as agents of change in their post-conflict and post-transition countries (yeah, I know, buzzword-y title, but it was a UN event, so it was to be expected).

The main aim of the workshop was to draft youth-oriented strategies and projects for the next two years, focusing on four thematic areas; capacity building, policies, institution building and creating a productive environment. The projects were built around youth empowerment on an economic, social and civic level, with an eye on women’s empowerment and peace building. We spent two full days diligently working in groups on the issues that most affected us as youth.

What I most love about these kinds of events is that they give me the chance to meet and talk with Libyan youth activists from across the country. Aside from the brief insights we gain through social media, there’s very few chances for us to interact with our counterparts in other cities and regions. It’s interesting to hear about the issues faced by Libyans across a wide spectrum, to learn about the similarities and differences between our areas, and the work they’re doing in their own civil society communities.

There was a young man from Jufra who spoke about the cultural work his organization is doing despite the creeping ISIS threat from nearby Sirte. There were representatives of the Scouts of the Nafusa mountains who shared their amazing efforts to engage youth, as well as Red Crescent volunteers who have been tackling the daunting task of the migration crisis in Tripoli. Another young man from Derna spoke about the city’s revival in the wake of the ISIS overthrow, while a Sebha activist shared the human rights work her organization was conducting in Fezzan.

As representatives of Benghazi, we talked to other participants about the work we were doing without mentioning the outstanding political situation that the city was going through, in keeping with our stance of neutrality as activists. But the invariable questions about the war came up, although not quite what we had expected.

The most common question was, “isn’t Benghazi completely destroyed?” This question caught us by surprise because, obviously, Benghazi isn’t completely destroyed. But it’s not exactly in tip top shape either. We found ourselves having to give a detailed explanation of the city’s geography, front line areas and the role of the army, militias and extremist groups in the conflict. Benghazi residents know that the conflict here isn’t black and white, but describing the intricacies of a war is harder than expected to someone not familiar with the background.

What’s been happening, it seems, is that the media outlets have been airing pictures of a destroyed street in the Sabri district (part of which actually is destroyed) and portraying it as all of Benghazi. This is completely misleading, as Sabri is just one of over 20 large districts that make up our seaside city. But the picture is shocking enough to elicit the feel that, if this area has been completely destroyed, surely the rest of the city was affected. This is why other Libyans find it hard to believe that we’re holding workshops and other civil society activities, essentially living our lives the best we can. The situation isn’t exactly an easy one to cope with, but it’s far from apocalyptic.

Another strange rumor that’s been floating around is that people in the East want Khalifa Heftar to fill Gadhafi’s shoes. If you know the nature of Benghazi’s denizens, I don’t need to tell you how ridiculous that is. Nor do I need to tell you how utterly idiotic the other rumors are regarding tribes, separation and other controversial issues.

But like I mentioned before, Libyans almost never get a chance to properly interact with one another, meaning that common knowledge about my city is nearly inaccessible to other Libyans. So you can’t really blame them for believing what they hear through the media, and it helps to explain why the Libyan conflict has touched so many nerves and set off a slew of fights online.

Last year I attended a similar event, that time with youth from Misrata. Now, if the media is to be believed, the core of the problem in Libya is an intense and hostile power struggle between Misrata and Benghazi. But of course, the media can’t be believed. Us (the Benghazi gang) and the Misratis were initially a bit hesitant to interact (a small voice was saying, what if the media was right?) but after some ice breaking, both groups got along rather well. We all had the same vision and the same goals for our cities, and we were impressed by each other’s projects and passions. It drove home the realization that the conflict in Libya isn’t between Libyans; it’s between our depraved, asinine, power-hungry, arrogant, greed-driven politicians. And it’s no coincidence that these politicians all mostly happen to be old men.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Libya would be much better off if the aging politicians in power were rounded up and placed in a retirement home somewhere, and youth instead instated in positions of power. Regardless of the war, the country cannot move forward with fossilized thinking. The youth I met these past few days have reaffirmed my belief that we have the necessary people, they just lack opportunities.

Possibly the best part of the workshop was the final night we spent together as a group. We went out for dinner, and during the walk back someone began singing a Libyan limerick.  Pretty soon it turned into a full-fledged ‘keshk’ (similar to a singing circle), with people sharing bits of poetry and song from their regions. It’s a purely Libyan tradition, and it was fun to stand there in the night, sharing in that tradition together. We don’t get to do these kinds of things in Libya, especially now with the environment becoming more hostile. But you can mull over peace building and conflict resolution strategies in conference rooms for days, and ultimately, it’s those little moments that really create unity.

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.

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.

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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.