"I do not supplicate charity at your doors -
Nor do I belittle myself at the footsteps of your chamber -
So will you be angry?" - Mahmoud Darwish
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
A Visit to Free Libya January 2012
journey from the UK to Libya started with awkwardness. The interior of
Tripoli airport was as dusty as if it was in disuse and the scruffy
immigration officers began to complain about the hung-up computers. You
only need to reset your computer pal! But No. Apparently, another
officer with a captain rank began to stamp everyone’s passports and to
hell with those modern abacuses! This meant that if you were blacklisted
in Libya, you could still get in to the country with no hindrance. It
seems that Libya became libertarian rather than liberated.
The brand-new baggage carousels started to push bags and cases As I and my mate
waited near the Cairo carousel (from where we traveled), we were
surprised to find our cases appearing on the Tunis carousel, behind us!
Luckily, there were only two carousels there, and whether from Cairo or
Tunis, our baggage finally made its way.
Since the fall of the
Gaddafi’s regime, I saw and heard a lot about the chaos in Libya.
Militants who contributed to the takeover of the capital were everywhere
with their anti-aircraft guns and ad-hoc checkpoints that challenged
the local police and their firing in the air as if “they were at war
with the sky”, as Charlie Brooker described it. For few Libyans, an
iron-fist rule was still in need.
Soon enough I would be
challenged as we made our way to the taxi and our driver set off. There
were the usual scenes of traffic mayhem; cars that just move and switch
lanes aggressively, I was taken by feeling that we would sooner or later
crash into another car.
As we drove toward the city, I saw no
militias and no militants. The road from the airport was in an excellent
condition, and within 15 minutes we started to get to the scenes of the
I expected the colour green – Gaddafi’s
trademark – everywhere on buildings and streets, but again it was not
there. Modern yellow housing complexes sprawled the road from the
airport to the city, as new rising towers slowly headed towards us - or
us towards them - in the horizon.
I could see that some
aspects of life in Tripoli were still in limbo. The new Libyan
tri-colour flag hovered on top of many places and from uncountable
balconies. The three colours of the flag with the white crescent and
star also covered what seemed to have few months earlier been billboards
and pictures of defiant Gaddafi. However, most of the cars – and my
visa – still had the name of Gaddafi’s “state of the masses” - or
Jamahiriya - on them.
This transition – or contradiction –
seems to be the headline of the moment. The graffiti written here and
there and the nice billboards told the current story of Libya: a wish to
restore law and order and move on versus the energetic armed militants
who refuse to lay down their arms. .
One spraying apparently
by the Misrata militants, who captured and killed Gaddafi, said: “Libya
is everyone’s capital; Misrata is the capital of martyrs”. “Al-Zintan
revolutionaries were here,” declared another statement on another wall.
Rebels from Misrata (200 km east of Tripoli) and Al-Zintan (75 km south
of Tripoli) became a strong force in the toothless capital when
Gaddafi’s supporters made their way in their last trip to Sirte, few
hundred kilometres to the east. Stories in Libya about the strange
actions of these militants are many. Mohamed told me that few militants
from Al-Zintan apparently took the elephant in Tripoli’s Zoo back to
their city. A local paper reported that rebels towed Gaddafi’s Scud
missiles from Sirte to Misrata!!
However, in every Tripoli
street I passed through, billboards showed a clear anti-militant
sentiment. “A martyr’s will: Tripoli is everyone’s capital but without
arms”. “Let us be enlightened, tolerant and let’s co-exist”. “Yes to
police, to national army, no to arms”.
This may explain why the militants vanished from the streets and their fight with the sky came to an abrupt end.
Against this backdrop of cultural battle lied a city that seemed to be
waking up from a year-long slumber, if not a 42-year coma, which is how
long Gaddafi remained in power.
During my first day, I came
face to face with my preconception of the Libyan revolt and alleged
Islamist impact that was propagated in the West. I saw many women
without headscarves, and more of them were driving, likely on their way
to have an espresso or to an aerobics session somewhere. Chic teenagers
seemed to care more about their hair style and Western clothes than the
application of Shariah law.
We drove by a café called
Pentapolis, and outside, Libyan men sipped their espressos and
macchiatos. While I couldn’t hear what they were saying from inside the
car, I was able to see the vivacity of a life finally free of oppression
and awoken to a new dawn.
I arrived at my hotel room with its
stunning of Tripoli’s harbour on the Mediterranean. The clear blue sky
and warm weather filled me with a feel-good sensation as I am about to
spend an amazing time in Libya.