Tunisia, the spark. Egypt, the flame.
The fire of momentum that has been spreading across North Africa and the Middle East has left leaders in the West in a state of shock and panic. Many Libyans living abroad have been desperately waiting for the trigger that would unleash the grievances of the Libyan people. I by no means want to steer the spotlight away from those struggling to fight injustice elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East, but the limited international media access by the regime in Libya has left scarce legitimate and accurate coverage. As a Libyan American yearning for my home nation, I feel it is my responsibility to shed light on what major news outlets have neglected. This past week the strength and perseverance of the Libyan people must be noted and emphasized.
Keeping the timing of these demonstrations in mind, it is important to note the differences of the situation in Libya. Gaddafi is the longest standing dictator, with a record of 42 years of power. Compare that to the 30 years of Hosni Mubarak and the 23 years of Ben Ali.
The average Libyan does not reap the benefits of the overwhelming wealth and potential of the country. With a tiny population of about 6.5 million, Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa. A country with vast natural resources should not have an employment rate of 30 percent. The regime has squandered the wealth of this nation for over 40 years.
As a Libyan American who has never stepped foot on Libyan soil, Libya has always seemed like a mysterious land. Yet my parents have instilled the Libyan culture within me, building the longing and desire to one day see Libya reach its full potential. To most Libyans who reside abroad, saying we never thought to see such an uprising and movement in Libya would be an understatement.
When one hears of Libya, the most popular response is discussion of the eccentric and outlandish behaviors of Muammer Al Gaddafi. What’s hidden beneath the surface is a man whose regime single-handedly massacred 1200 people in a matter of three hours in June 1996. Many of the victims were political prisoners of Abu-Salim prison, protesting for basic necessities. Until this day, families of the victims do not know whether their loved ones are dead or alive. He is a man who has also systematically instilled a sense of fear within the people of Libya. At one point, he performed regular public hangings of whom he considered “enemies of the revolution” within the city of Benghazi. The list sadly goes on and on, making Gaddafi one of the most brutal dictators in the world. Until recently many inside and outside of Libya feared the ruthlessness of the regime, but the fear barrier is slowly falling.
Feb. 17 “Day of Rage”
As Libyans watched the Tunisians and Egyptians oust their leaders, their appetite for justice intensified. Largely organized through outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, youth and exiles outside Libya planned a protest for freedom on Feb. 17. The demonstrations began ahead of schedule in the city of Benghazi, after the spokesperson for the families of Abu-Salim victims was arrested two days before the planned protests. The families subsequently took to the streets to demand his release. Demonstrations quickly rose with support of the people all over east Libya. However, Gaddafi immediately matched theses demonstrations with violence, as a means of instilling the perpetual fear among the Libyan people. What began as peaceful demonstrations has diverged into a blood bath.
Within just three days, eyewitness reports emerging on Twitter, blogs and Facebook on Saturday morning claimed the death toll has surpassed 200, making the events in Libya nothing less then a massacre. Initially, the regime reportedly sent “Revolutionary committee” members to hose down protesters with high-pressure water cannons and eventually deployed live ammunition against the demonstrators. The security forces are aiming to kill. There is no discrimination in whom is being targeted. Any peaceful protester is fair game in the eyes of the regime. The regime has also not had the restraint to halt shooting during funerals. The brutality of this regime has no limits.
As a tactic of division and distraction in order to fight off protesters, African mercenaries have been flown to Benghazi (the eastern city of Libya) to combat protesters. Flying in foreign mercenaries is a clear reminder of Gaddafi’s lack of trust in his own Libyan police, knowing they will not turn on other Libyans. All the eastern cities and some of the Berber towns in the mountains have been resisting and fighting mercenaries for the past three days. Additional protests and chaos have also been reported in Adjabia, Deerna and Tubrug. There have also been reports of police and soldiers joining forces to fight the mercenaries. Recently reports have announced that the eastern part of Libya was in complete control of the demonstrators. In the mean time state television shows perpetual images of pro-Gaddafi protesters.
Today, my family was anxiously waiting for the reported speech by Gaddafi son, Saif-al-Islam. It was delayed several hours and was finally aired, unclear whether it was prerecorded. Many saw the speech as a warning to those in Tripoli. The warning fell on deaf ears – there were reports of many in Tripoli hitting the streets. Reports subsequently announced another 30,000 mercenaries landing in the city of Tripoli, essentially creating the second battleground in Libya.
As a Libyan American helplessly watching these events unfold, I am deeply disturbed and disgusted by the ruthlessness and brutality of the Libyan regime upon the Libyan people. I pray the violence does not escalate and the Libyan struggle results in freedom.
DUAA GETTANI is a senior environmental policy analysis and planning major at UC Davis.