Sunday, 21 August 2011

Guest Post: Gaddafi’s Regime and the Ruin of the Mediterranean Bride

Libya has been on our minds a lot recently. I'm myself not knowledgeable enough to feel confident to write about the crisis; however, while I'm a pacifist and would generally always opt for a non violent solution, I also believe that there are situations where force is necessary. Is Libya such a case? Only hindsight will tell, as so often. Today I have the honour to hand over to a Libyan friend who would like to remain anonymous for personal protection and that of the family. It is a letter written to the Glasgow Herald, however, the newspaper chose not to publish it and also not to respond. I'm glad that at least here the letter can be published and this voice can be heard.

I do not know from which point I should start in regard to the crisis of my country, Libya, but let me give you an idea of Gaddafi’s regime and the Libyan uprising, before I present to you the horrifying situation of my home town, Tripoli. Yes, most Eastern cities in Libya are now breathing the breeze of freedom, yet the crisis in many other cities in the west part such as Misrata, Western Mount and Tripoli is beyond imagination and the calamity cannot be believed.

Libya started producing oil in the early 1960s, and its oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world as of 2007. The reason I mention this oil information is that, yesterday, one of my friends was completely shocked to learn that Libya has been exporting oil for that long. He could not, and I guess no one would, believe that an oil-rich country like Libya, still remains way behind most undeveloped countries. Most Libyans believe that Gaddafi, who has being ruling the country since 1969, is to blame for the havoc of the current situation and the corruption in Libya.

Gaddafi is a one-man show who, during his 42 years of power, has focused mainly on all security, guard and defensive means to protect himself and his regime. Meanwhile, history shows that he is an aggressive person, who will do whatever it takes to maintain power. In fact, his violent and unpredictable attitude has allowed him to stay in power through the decades as most Libyans have realised since the 1980s that he will not hesitate to destroy the country if he feels that his days are numbered. However, on 17/2/2011 Libyans in most cities including the capital, Tripoli, went peacefully to the street to say No to corruption and inheritance, and “YES to democracy”. They were inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings early this year, and they thought that Gaddafi should have learned by now a lesson from his two neighbours, the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents, and step down, but sadly this was and is not the case.
It is almost 6 months now since the Libyan uprising started, and Gaddafi is still determined to hold his position while the majority of the country descends into an unknown destiny due to the ongoing conflict between the uprisers and Gaddafi’s militias and mercenaries. It is true that the rebels (uprisers) are gradually gaining more and more ground, but their progress toward Gaddafi’s bolt-hole, in which he is hiding for more than 4 months, is slow and not as it should be due to two factors: first of all, the uprisers are civilians who are not prepared or trained to fight; and secondly, Gaddafi’s troops have started planting landmines as obstacles to the rebels’ movements. The slow progress in getting rid of Gaddafi and his cronies threatens further devastation in many cities, especially the western cities that are still controlled by Gaddafi. The residents in western cities like Misrata, Western Mount, and Tripoli are suffering shortages in many major aspects of basic life such as medicine, food, water, electricity and gas. To be more realistic, I will convey to you here only what I am hearing directly from my family members who live in Tripoli, but the situation is almost the same in most other western Libyan cities. 
Tripoli used to be called the Mediterranean Bride. It is now living in tragedy since the uprising started. On 20/7/2011, the third day of the uprising, more than 800 people were killed in Tripoli alone, and the situation soon worsened as Gaddafi’s militias apprehended more than 30,000 (thirty thousand) people; most of them between 18 and 35 years old. This was not the end, and the situation has started getting even worse in the last two months. Tripoli’s latest news, which I have just got from my family, is frightening and speaks of looming disaster. I had to call my family these last three days to make sure that they are safe after NATO bombed a Gaddafi army compound on 9/8/2011 around 1 am. The compound, located in a region called Alfornaaj, seems to have been full of heavy weapons, such as rockets, because after that, many rockets from inside the compound started flying out, and fell on 4 or 5 nearby houses. Although my family and other friends’ families repeatedly confirm that the NATO strikes are extremely precise, I had to call them because that compound was only 600 meters from my family and relatives’ houses. My family told me that this strike was the heaviest, and thank God that no one was hurt.
Yesterday, I had a long call conversation with my family who revealed to me the following issues as they were describing the crisis in Tripoli:
  1. Medicine: Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are common health problems in Libya. In the last three months there was a shortage of the drugs needed for people with such problems. Tripoli has also been hit by baby food shortages: in particular baby milk formula. If medicine and baby food are found, it will be 10 times more expensive than its regular price.
  1. Water: in the last four months, most people stopped drinking tap water because they were worried about it being poisoned by Gaddafi’s militias. However, now they turn back to tap water because there is a shortage of packaged water, which consequently has become very expensive. Unfortunately even the tap water is not available all the time.
  1. Gas: There are also big shortages in gas supplies during the last 8 weeks. In Libya, most of the people use gas cookers, but in order to get a gas bottle these days one needs to stay in a queue for between 24 and 48 hours. However, staying in a queue for that long does not mean that you will get gas, simply because of the long queue, and sadly most of time the bottles are sold before you get your turn. According to one of my friend’s family, people have started reducing their gas consumption by cooking with chicken meat instead of red meat, such as lamb and beef, because the latter require more gas to be cooked as compared to the chicken. The prices of the gas bottles are now going through the roof, with prices raised 30 times during the last month. So, people have now bought mini electric cookers, to use if there is electricity.
  1. Electricity: Many parts of Tripoli in the last 4 weeks have been without electricity for between two to three days. The lucky parts of Tripoli get electricity for a period of 2-4 hours per day. The electricity interruption, I think, is due to two issues: to conserve fuel, which is needed for the electricity generators; and to limit the movement of people during the night time. Many families in Tripoli, due to the shortage of gas, have started using electric stoves to cook their meals, but due to the electricity blackouts there is no specific time for cooking. The cooking depends on when the electricity returns. They sometimes have to wake up around 3 o’clock in the morning to prepare meals for the next day because no one can ensure that the electricity will stay for another hour. The other problem is that they cannot prepare meals for more than one day because the refrigerators and freezers, in which they can keep their food, also have no power. The shortage in gas and the continuing electricity problem led people to look for other alternatives for cooking such as BBQ coal. Even coal became very expensive around 10 times higher than the regular prices. 
  2. Fuel: People have also been distressed by the fuel shortage, for 3 or 4 months. In Libya we do not have public transportation, and so people depend mainly on private transportation to get to work, school, university, and shops, and the problem gets even worse in the case of an emergency. By the way, we do not have ambulance vehicles that one can call in case of emergency. To get fuel one has to stand in a queue for a minimum of three days. Alternatively you can buy from smugglers, but the cost here is 80 times higher. 
  3. Libyan Currency: Yes, there is a lack of currency in the Libyan market. Gaddafi, from the beginning of the uprising, started motivating young Libyans and foreign people (mercenaries) to fight on his side against the rebels by offering them a tempting amount (thousands of Libyan pounds) of money. The big slap to Gaddafi in regard to the currency happened at the beginning of the uprising when the UK government seized around 700 million Libyan pounds, which were printed in the UK, from reaching Gaddafi’s hands. To overcome this problem, Gaddafi’s regime has taken the following steps:
    1. Started using old (out of date) currency which has been cancelled for around 15 years, though still stored in the Libyan central bank storages.
    2. People are only allowed to withdraw 500 Libyan pounds a month, and sometimes even less, in order to keep as much as he can in the banks.
    3. In the last 6 weeks, Gaddafi’s regime has started selling golden bars to people in order to get some cash for his daily business. I presume this represents the Libyan national assets.
The information I have provided describes the daily grave situation of the people in Tripoli and many other Libyan cities, and I avoided talking here Gaddafi and his militias’ violations of other human rights starting from killing old people to using rape as a weapon. These issues may need books to clarify and justify. These horrendous and intolerable events, which are taking place in Libya in the 21th century, are beyond imagination, and most Libyans are now saying that they have not experienced such circumstances since World War II. Guess, this all happens for the goal of satisfying Gaddafi’s family desires for a continuation of power.

By the way, I am not a writer, but I decided to uncover Gaddafi’s regime and speak the truth in an attempt to do something for my country and the Libyan heroes, who are dying for free democracy for all Libyans.

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