Libya…Painful Truths, Painful Choices

By: Wael Yousef    

Visiting Libya for the first time was just like meeting a virgin, who has never been seen or touched. I believe several journalists and I felt that to the power of 10 when they first set their feet on the Libyan soil.

Libya has long been a closed country and its people are no stranger to the mentality of keeping away from the hassles in order to avoid what is undesirable – just like many other Arab nations.

Several countries around the world seem to be closed, no doubt. Japan, in the past, for instance, used to be a locked country but not in everything. It was closed only under the Sakoku system, where no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death. Also, Japan seems closed when it comes to politics. However, the country is still open in many other different ways.

In Libya, this is not the case. Closeness in Libya applies to almost everything. And that closeness mirrors dictatorship in the ugliest sense of the word.

Libya’s strongman Muamar Qaddafi and his shoe-lickers ruled the country for over 40 years. This does not make any sense in today’s world. But this happened in Libya.

In old history, you can find leaders who ruled their nations for 40 years plus and probably that was a good thing for their nations. Ruling a country is something and controlling and usurping it from A to Z is something else.

With this in mind, I can say Qaddafi was not just a ruler; he played God, whose word was a rule across the country. A ruler can be a dictator in one, two or three ways. But Qaddafi had it all. It was Libya that  suffered from the worst versions of the one-man show.

In Libya, everything was made the way Qaddafi likes it. All photos were replaced with his own photo. Under Qaddafi, everything turned green…a green flag that does not reflect any portion of the Libyan identity and a Green Book that has long been replacing the Holy Qur’an.

It is a story of a land where the simplest human rights are awfully violated and the simplest forms of freedom are invisible. A land whose people finally revolted to declare to their ruler and the entire world: We are humans…we belong to this planet…and we deserve better than this.

Libya – larger than Egypt in terms of area –is home for only 5 million people. Libyan people, like other Arab peoples, are productive, but the regime did not want them to be productive because it believes the larger the population; the harder to be controllable. Take Egypt as a fresh example in their revolution.

In Libya, it is common to hear things like: “This is the first time for me to see foreigners and to listen to them speaking their native languages”, “Why Asian people are interested in covering our news!”, “It is almost impossible to find a Libyan who can speak a foreign language”, “We do not have opposition.”

This shocked me in the jaw-dropping sense before I got shocked with what Qaddafi did to his homeland.

In Libya, there is no constitution, no laws, no military service, no opposition parties, no civil societies, no non-governmental organizations, no newspapers, no TV stations, no tourism, no English language curricula in academies and no developmental projects.

In Libya, it is OK for someone like Saif al Islam – who, as far as we know, is neither minister nor prime minister and who occupies no post in the ruling system – to talk to the media in the name of the Libyan nation and to threaten the protesters to make them pay the price of taking to the streets and demonstrating against his dad’s regime.

In Libya, Qaddafi deepened the disputes among the tribes in order to be the only performer on the stage.

Qaddafi has no support among Libyans, but outside it he is not short of supporters who can sell anything for dollars- – the dollars that made pro-Qaddafi militias, some of them are Libyans, find it funny to practice killing and assassination with cold blood as if they are playing a Chicken Invaders Game.

In Libya, it is more likely that the person you interview whisper in your ears to tell you something or answer your question because he or she is afraid of being identified, or tipped off, or targeted, or arrested, or tortured or killed or “taken behind the sun.”

Qaddafi’s dictatorship is always ugly, not only because it assassinates freedoms but also because it makes the country seem “short of cadres” who can rule.

Anyone who speaks to the officials of the Libyan National Transitional Council can easily notice that those officials appear in front of the camera for the first time ever. They seem shy, hang back and cannot blend in easily.

Libyans have never been experienced in carrying guns. Today, the entire nation is armed and gained large experience not only in carrying weapons but also in frontline fight. They introduced an original version of freedom fighters in our 21st Century.

What all the fuss is about! It is about the quality of life and Libyans chose to struggle for a better life and a better Libya and for this to happen, they had to make painful decisions.

Libya is not close anymore. NTC took over with NATO help. The deals are underway. The Arabs are silent. The NATO is getting crueler. Its strikes are getting harsher with the distance between rebels and Tripoli getting shorter day after day. The US plays a double-faced role. It seems to be backing the NTC, keeping a predator’s eyes on the Libyan cake. Actually, there are too many fingers in the cake: US, France, Italy, Britain, Spain, Canada, Germany…and the Libyans are to pay dearly.

A closed country like Libya was better to open to the world step by step, and not such radically. But time was faster and decisions had to be made immediately to save what could be saved.

Finally, does “freedom and democracy” come from shoulder-held, short-range surface-to-air missiles, light guided anti-tank missiles, jamming of Gaddafi’s military communications and surgical air strikes against his command and communications centers?

The answer is that, under the circumstances where the regime has not hesitated from using battlefield weapons against innocent civilians and peaceful protestors, yes, the world has an obligation to arm those who have risen up against the tyrant and who would else be sitting ducks for his goons.

Now Libya is in the hands of yellow-skinned leaders with cosmetic roles by NTC officials. The question: Will it be easy for Libya to get back to the Arab house…or the battle of liberation carried out by NATO will take it to another dilemma!