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A year after the revolt

Children celebrating in Tripoli on Friday. Photo: AFP

Children celebrating in Tripoli on Friday. Photo: AFP

As Libya marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, is the country really on the road to recovery? Sarah Carabott spoke to three individuals.

Fr Daniel Farrugia first set foot in Libya 10 years into Muammar Gaddafi’s revolution and watched the steady rise and fall of the dictator.

Fr Daniel FarrugiaFr Daniel Farrugia

“People seem to have come out of a nightmare. You can see their joy and sense of freedom,” the Maltese priest told The Sunday Times, one year since the beginning of the end of the Gaddafi regime.

While until last year, Libyans felt humiliated in front of the rest of the world, today they approach foreigners and welcome them to their “Free Libya” with a smile.

Fr Farrugia insisted there is “no comparison” between the new administration and the old regime, notwithstanding that the current government had to start from scratch.

One of the new government’s priorities was to treat the wounded, with many of those involved in the nine-month conflict being sent overseas for medical care. More than 18,000 are being treated in Jordan while Malta has cared for more than 50 injured Libyans.

But it is more difficult to heal the injustice suffered by many, the Maltese priest said.

Fr Farrugia underlined the importance of the National Transitional Council’s calls for reconciliation. “The new flag is a unifying factor and I hope that after they settle their accounts with the injustice committed, Libyans will eventually come back as one people.”

Fr Farrugia, 60, settled in Libya in 1979 to serve the American and Filipino community at St Patrick’s chapel in the Gargaresh area.

He left the North African country for a while but returned in 1997, this time setting up camp at St Francis’ Church in Dahra, the only Catholic Church in Tripoli, where he stayed during last year’s revolution.

During the beginning of the war, the regime tried to mobilise people from different parts of Libya to march against the Benghazi rebels. Churches were also invited to join to put pressure on the population.

State TV used to broadcast Gaddafi’s “aggressive speeches”, prompting embassies’ staff and foreigners working in the country to flee.

Soon after the exodus, a food and fuel shortage spread across the country, creating an atmosphere of fear and tension among people who could never speak their mind.

Four months after “42 years of suppression”, Libya is going through a long-term transition period, where although rich in resources, the country still lags behind other countries. But Fr Farrugia believes Libyans’ performance will eventually “surprise” us all.

‘Clashes blown out of proportion’

Mohamed LeebiMohamed Leebi

Rumours of occasional clashes in Tripoli come as no surprise to Mohamed Leebi. There is still a large amount of weapons and ammunition in civilians’ hands and the absence of a national army and a fully functioning police force make early solutions difficult, said Mr Leebi.

Despite a growing concern about the state of security in the country, Mr Leebi, 21, played down the alarm about ongoing fighting and said occasional clashes with pro-Gaddafi factions reported in the international media were usually minor and blown out of proportion.

Such clashes, he insisted, could be expected in a country that had just come out of a war, but did not threaten national security or stability.

Libya was, on the contrary, slowly transforming into a democratic state, and the signs of a freer society were already visible. People today are able to protest, express their opinion and debate politics without fear of reprisals, he added.

The transformation to a democratic era is challenging, especially because Libyans are “building Libya from scratch, and not rebuilding it”.

Mr Leebi, currently based in London, moved out of Libya in the late 1990s, but visits the North African country once or twice a year. He hopes he will be back this summer to a country without any pictures of Col Gaddafi adorning the walls.

Would he return for good?

“Should a job or a business opportunity come up, I would definitely look into moving back,” he said.

‘Nation has become much stronger than government’

Abdalla KablanAbdalla Kablan

The founder of the Libyan Solidarity Movement, Abdalla Kablan, believes there is a “vast” difference in Libya today, compared with February 2011 when protests in Benghazi sparked off a wider rebellion.

It is hard to ‘fix’ a culture of corruption overnight and disarming people is complicated

“It might sound too poetic to say that during the uprising one could ‘smell’ and breathe freedom, but that was the feeling among all Libyans.

“Today, despite the many problems the country is facing, Libyans are free. In the past it was inconceivable to even dare speak against the government,” he said, insisting that one can now criticise (NTC chairman) Abdul Jalil or the National Transitional Council without fear because “the nation has become much stronger than the government”.

Born in Misurata, the 27-year old said understanding the situation in Libya required looking back at a country ruled by a dictator for more than four decades.

“Libya can be described as a man that has been in a coma for 40 years, then woke up to find himself in war. The psychological, social, and emotional impact is immense,” he said. During these 40 years, corruption spread across all levels in society.

More than one generation was born under this system, and the vast majority of the nation was brought up under psychological oppression and fear.

When the revolution took off and Libyans took the opportunity to say no to the oppressor, Col Gaddafi waged war on Libyans and vowed to crush them, Dr Kablan added.

This transformed a peaceful uprising into a fully-fledged military war, forcing Libyan civilians to protect themselves with weapons.

Although Libya now seems to be recovering well, the devastation surfaced when the “high” of victory started fading. It is hard to “fix” a culture of corruption overnight, and disarming people is complicated, he said.

While only “true freedom fighters” are registered as weapon holders, many others still possess weapons.

Disarming registered weapon holders who gave everything to protect their country, means giving the unregistered people – possibly gang members or former Gaddafi supporters – the chance to take over the country in some new form, Dr Kablan said.

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