As millions of Tunisians courageously took to the streets, in some of the most awe-inspiring events of this young century, my imagination – and the imaginations of thousands of Libyans – began to bubble fervently. What would it be like if we awoke one morning to find that after 41 years, Gaddafi was no longer in power? What would that Libya be and look like? I had asked myself these questions before but had only entertained them as fantasy and never as actual possibilities. As sporadic reports of small protests and skirmishes in Libya reached me, these questions began to shift and transform as they rolled around in my mind and I have been unable to shake them since. I have scanned myself over and over again and have been unable to anticipate what it would feel like to know that Gaddafi, the longest serving African and Arab leader, is finally gone. Things that good are not supposed to happen.
But there I was, joyfully watching the Tunisian people claim their rights and oust a man who was the source of so much injustice. It was a widely circulated sentiment, throughout social media, that “as every Arab dictator watches Tunisia in fear, every Arab citizen watches Tunisia in hope.” And along with Arabs everywhere, I meticulously tracked every potential wellspring of popular revolt, wondering where the next uprising would pour out into the streets.
From Mauritania to Libya to Jordan, everyone celebrated Tunisia. As if collectively we recognized that a victory in Tunisia was a victory over every regime that had crippled Arab nations since decolonization. Ben Ali is Mubarak is Saleh is Bouteflika is Abbas is al-Assad is Hussein is Gaddafi…is Gaddafi…is Gaddafi. And just as we found our spirits filled with optimism, that our collective pain may indeed be overcome, we saw the region’s dictators wishing for the failure of the Tunisian revolt – something most visibly manifested in Gaddafi’s address of the Tunisian people, where he suggested the nation was too hasty in ousting “Zine.”
But the uproar in Tunisia was only the beginning.
As Egypt followed suit only weeks later, it had seemed that the Arab World had finally awoken after decades of silence and corruption, and whilst the whole world’s attention was on Egypt – the heart of the Middle East – Libyan activists were preparing for Thursday the 17th February; the “day of rage”.
The 17th February is a significant date of sorrow for the Libyan people. In 1987, Gaddafi publicly executed young Libyan opposition members by hanging them, then played and replayed their executions on national television to intimidate the opposition, leaving the bodies of the young students to rot on the gallows for days. In 2006, it was the date that 18 protesters were murdered and 700 arrested during peaceful protests around the country organised in remembrance of the executed students. Gaddafi’s regime smashed the protests with an iron fist.
And thus, sandwiched between Tunisia and Egypt and inspired by the neighboring uprisings, plans for the 17th began. Plans for vengeance, for the beginning of the end of the Oppressive Regime in Libya and the transformation of the 17th February into a day of celebration as an anniversary of Libya’s Liberation.
But it was on Tuesday night that hundreds of protesters, clear eyed, brave and mighty, took to the streets of Benghazi, about 600 miles east of Libya’s capital, and clashed with police and Gaddafi’s supporters. Protests then began to spread like wildfire across the eastern cities of Libya as more and more civilians flooded the streets in the hopes of ending the brutal regime. It was really happening. The time had come and the youth of Libya were rising up and refusing to be silent any longer.
And only a few days later, the capital city of Tripoli had erupted, where civilians imitated the courage their Libyan brothers in the eastern cities had shown. It is official; the barrier of fear is broken and the voices of Libyans across the country are finally being heard. Libya refuses to be gagged and WILL reclaim its rights to freedom and justice. The euphoria and pride at this moment is indescribable. Libyans all across the globe are celebrating the courage and determination that is spreading throughout the country, and letting them know that they are not alone.
Alas, this heroism has clashed with the bullets and shells belonging to a blood thirsty criminal, a man willing to witness the massacre of his own people before the relinquish of his might. A man whose evil nature simply cannot be described with words alone. For Gaddafi one thing is clear; kill or be killed. He cares little for how many deaths he causes, how many homes he destroys, how many lives he shatters. If he has to wipe out an entire country he will, just to send one message: “How dare you defy me”. They say that Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. I assure you that indeed it’s not. We all recognise the oppression that the Tunisians and Egyptians had faced for decades but it does not compare to the complete lack of freedom of speech in Libya. Gaddafi has never allowed for any expression of distaste against him, the Libyan people have lived under total control of his ruthless power and he simply will not accept the fact that we are now saying “enough is enough”.
Libyan warplanes and helicopters have excelled as death machines in attempts to crush the uprisings. Heavily armed mercenaries have hunted down demonstrators, burning buildings, looting police stations and killing anyone in their paths. Blood baths are emerging in what people are calling a genocide whilst the world watches on from a distance in a passive stance. Sayf El Islam El Gaddafi, Gaddafi’s son and protégé, has arrogantly condemned the protestors, and has threatened the nation with “rivers of blood” if the demonstrations do not cease. But inn an attempt to terrify the Libyan nation into putting an end to the protests he has succeeded only in fueling their rage and strength. As demonstrations grow more fierce they stand proud and say “We are not afraid”.
Thousands have been injured and in the quest for freedom, more than 500 protestors have died, with the death toll rapidly rising with each day. Senior Libyan officials and diplomats have resigned their political posts both in Libya and overseas in disgust and outrage. Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, has accused Gaddafi of being a mass murderer and a war criminal and has urged the international community to condemn and act against the brutality of the regime.
Of course, the civil unrest and mass-death that was taking place in Libya did not spark the interests of the international community as much as it’s “Brother Revolution” in neighbouring Egypt, a fact many Libyans are painfully aware of. Thus, from the moment a group of Libyans inside Libya announced plans for their own day of protest, Libyan activists outside the country have been working tirelessly to get the word out, circulated vía audio and video, and pressure media outlets to report on Libya. If the Libyan protesters are ignored, the fear is that Gaddafi, a man who appears to care little what the rest of the world thinks of him, will be able to seal the country off from foreign observers and crush any revolution before it has a chance to succeed.
To those fighting in Libya, I salute you. The world is with you and you have earned all of our respects for sacrificing your own safety for the freedom of your country. And to the martyrs that were brutally murdered, you will live on in Libya’s history as heroes. Each and every hero will not be forgotten and will not have died in vain; they have died so that Libya could live. And make no mistake, Libya WILL live and will be free once and for all from the wrath of this satanic dictatorship.
Long Live Libya.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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