Tunisia, the spark. Egypt, the flame. The fire 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. We 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 Libyan Americans yearning for our nation, we feel it is our 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 in the world, with a record forty-two years of power, in comparison to the thirty years of Hosni Mubarak and the twenty-three 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 is the fourth largest country in land size and has the largest oil reserves in Africa. A country with vast natural resources should not have an unemployment rate of 30%. The regime has squandered the wealth of this nation for over 4o years.
As Libyan Americans who have never stepped foot on Libyan soil, Libya has always seemed like a mysterious land. Yet our Parents have instilled the Libyan culture within us, 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 behavior of Muammer Al Gaddafi. What is hidden beneath the surface is a man whose regime single-handily massacred 1200 people in a matter of three hours, many of whom 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, by performing such acts as public hangings of those he considers “enemies of the revolution” within the city of Benghazi. The list goes on and on, making Qaddafi one of 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.
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, as well as exiles outside Libya, planned a protest for freedom on the 17th of February. They labeled the organization for the protest “Thawrat Mukhtar” named after Omar Mukhtar, the Libyan Muslim hero who led the Libyans to victory against the Italians. The demonstrations began ahead of schedule in the city of Benghazi, after the spokesperson for the families of Abu-Salim victims was arrested 2 days before the planned protests. The families subsequently took to the streets to demand his release. Demonstrations quickly rose with the support of people all over east Libya. However, Qaddafi immediately matched theses demonstrations with violence. What began as peaceful demonstrations have become 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. Qaddafi had sent a “revolutionary committee” to hose down protesters with high-pressure water cannons and eventually deploying live ammunition against the demonstrators. Those who have been shot have mostly been shot in the head and chests, meaning they are shooting to kill. There is no discrimination in who is being targeted – any peaceful protester is fair game in the eyes of the regime. While burying their dead from the day before, Libyan men carrying bodies were shot at; four were killed during a Janaza (funeral) prayer.
As a tactic of division and distraction in order to fight off protesters, African mercenaries have been flown into Benghazi (the eastern and second largest 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 Jdabia, Darna, and Tubrug. There have also been reports of police and soldiers joining forces to fight the mercenaries. State television is airing pro-Qaddafi parades in order to keep those in other cities unaware of the reality of what is really happening.
What stands out the most in all of this is the lack of fear in Allah (swt) by this deranged man, and the complete and full trust in Allah (swt) by the Libyan people standing up to injustice. I was reminded of the story of the Battle of Badr where the Muslim army was unprepared and lacked in numbers against their enemy. In the end the people who are on the side of Allah (swt) will, insha’Allah, prevail.
As Libyan Americans, we are deeply disturbed and disgusted by the ruthlessness and brutality of the Libyan regime, and the silence of those with the means to help. We pray the violence does not escalate. If you would like to see up to date information on the violence going on in Libya please visit: http://www.libyafeb17.com/