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One of the things I have been learning is how useless the bourgeois
press is in getting to the bottom of Libyan realities. There is also a
dearth of scholarly material as a search of JSTOR has revealed. The book
I referred to the other day is superlative but it is the *only* one that
has been published to date.
But there seems to be an alternative. Unsurprisingly it is an
English-language blog written by a Benghazi resident titled "Brave New
Libya". Here is his (or her) latest post "76 Hours in Tripoli" from
August 15th that will give you an idea of the sort of thing found there.
I will be check the blog roll to see if there are other English-language
For all my aggressively pro-Benghazi sentiment, there’s a special place
in my heart for Libya’s capital city. Large, loud, bustling, with
excellent coffee that almost makes up for the traffic congestion, the
indifferent enormity and beauty of Tripoli is like a haughty love
interest. I enjoy glimpsing a shadow of Benghazi in the Italian facades
of downtown Tripoli, or the pedestrians walking down the seaside. But
the accent of the passersby shatters that illusion; hearing ‘halba‘
instead of ‘wajed‘, or seeing the black shenna atop the heads of old men
on street corners, instead of the distinct crimson of the East, reminds
me of where I actually am.
No Libyan will admit this, in our long-standing tradition of
stubbornness, but we love visiting other regions and cities. It’s that
feeling of being not-quite-away from home, but far enough that you
notice the small differences, which I think we find endearing. My Libya
travels have been contained to the East, which makes the rare trips to
the capital all the more exciting. West Libya is an entirely foreign
place to me, while the South is still more of a mystery. (I’ve still
unsuccessfully been able to visit Fezzan, but it hasn’t stopped me from
continuing to try)
This trip was marred by the Libyan conflict, as everything is nowadays.
“Are you sure it’s safe to go?” “I heard they kidnap Shergawis.”
“Tripoli is not what it used to be, don’t be surprised when you arrive.”
The airport was bigger than I expected, and knowing that there wasn’t a
three-hour car ride ahead of me (a la Labrag) was enough to keep me in
high spirits. Driving around the city, I picked up on the familiar
patches of the skyline, re-learning the architecture. There were more
bullet holes in Tripoli then when I last arrived over two years ago, and
the people a bit more forlorn. But there was also a lot of life, a
persistent need to keep going, an unwillingness to succumb to the
situation. The ugly rumors online about how terrifying Tripoli had
become are as unfounded as the reports of Benghazi’s complete
destruction. But people persist in these rumors, because we have
developed a hideous sense of victory when we hear of a rival city’s
demise, as though this failure justifies our petty political beliefs.
“There’s Bou Sita, if you look hard you can see the boat that Sarraj
sailed in on.” It’s a new joke, but there’s nothing funny about the very
serious armoured cars guarding the naval base. Around the city, you can
spot stenciled graffiti in support of the GNA, but it’s not convincing.
Real graffiti is not that meticulous, not that earnest in its message.
These suspicions were confirmed by people I spoke with. “We had hope in
them at first, but not anymore. What have they achieved?”
It was hard to get used to hearing from people in Tripoli that some of
the militias are keeping the peace. Militias are all bad, aren’t they?
We uncompromisingly rejected them in Benghazi, a decision whose
consequences we’re still facing. But it’s all for the ultimate greater
good. Isn’t it? But Tripoli isn’t Benghazi, and their situation is not
our situation. In Benghazi we don’t have tens of thousands of IDPs from
other cities all seeking refuge, we don’t have the debilitating
political expectations from unseen outside forces. When situations go to
their extreme, we lean on one another. But in Tripoli, it’s every man
for himself. Which is why I have to accept that, whatever my feelings
are, my opinions are irrelevant to this city. اهل مكة ادرى بشعابها, as
Another thing about Tripoli that is both endearing and embarrassing is
that I’ve never spent a dinar there. I go from friend to friend, being
hosted in that famed Libyan hospitality, and fights over the bill always
end up with me losing to the argument of “You’re our guest!” Even when
buying fruit at a kiosk, the vendor dismissed me with a wave of his hand
as I try to pay, saying “Next time, المرة الجاية.” I unconvincingly
tell friends, “I’ll be hosting you when you visit me in Benghazi soon,”
both of us knowing that they won’t be visiting Benghazi soon, that I
don’t even want them to see Benghazi when it’s like this, with its
rubble and its anger.
You don’t have to go far to find Benghazi anger though. Tripoli hosts
thousands of Benghazi families who have fled the East, some unable to
return because their neighbourhood still isn’t under LNA control, and
some because it is. For the latter, it’s a self-imposed exile, a
decision that hasn’t been taken without some measure of bitterness. I’m
acutely aware that being able to travel freely between cities and
regions in Libya has become something of a luxury.
In the morning of my departure, I bought an early-morning cup of coffee
from a nearby kiosk. In Benghazi, as a woman, I could never stand in a
line with a group of sleepy-eyed Libyan men at a coffee kiosk. But my
visitor status to the city affords me this brazen opportunity. I walk
around for a bit taking in the morning air, forgetting for a brief
moment the war, the hatred, the divided country, and enjoyed being a
regular citizen visiting the capital city of her country.
Tripoli is also where I first met Tawfik Bensaoud, during that last trip
two years ago, ironic considering that we’re both from Benghazi. We had
our first real conversation waiting at the airport gate for our flight
back. I don’t remember what we talked about, probably politics or civil
society, but I remember being content. Tawfik is gone, and the airport
is gone, but Tripoli is still here, Benghazi is still here. We can only
go forward now.
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