Fearful Libyans recall when life was sweet after Gadhafi fell

Monday, February 16, 2015


By Rebecca Murray

McClatchy Foreign Staff


TRIPOLI, Libya _ Four years after the start of the rebellion that ended the long rule of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, a culture of fear and intimidation has fallen over the country.

“If you have an opinion, you keep it to yourself,” said Elham, an economics student at the University of Tripoli. “Everyone is scared, so we can’t talk about politics. And since we are girls, if we talk, maybe someone will kidnap us. We can’t talk at all.”

The hushed and downcast mood on the tightly guarded campus today _ people interviewed there asked that their full names not be used _ is in stark contrast to the jubilance three years earlier, when, just free of Gadhafi’s oppressive regime, students voiced their aspirations loudly.

They hungered for rights, democratic elections, independent media, international restaurant and shopping chains, and above all else a prosperous future in a Libya similar to Dubai, the Persian Gulf emirate that iss a symbol of prosperity. Living in a traditionally conservative society, Libyans often said their devotion to Islam was the one thing that didn’t need fixing.

Now, though, as the Feb. 15 anniversary of the rebellion’s beginning approaches, the country is deeply divided. Two governments rule, one in Tripoli and

one in Tobruk, near the border with Egypt. Assassinations and bombings are common. Last week, gunmen claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic State group attacked the luxury Corinthia hotel in the heart of downtown Tripoli, killing at least 11 people in an hours-long siege. It might have been bigger news if the hotel, long a favorite of foreign businessmen, government officials and journalists, hadn’t

been mostly empty in recent months. Abdul was a popular teenager when he rushed to join the fight against Gadhafi’s forces in 2011. Shot in the arm, he turned in his weapon and returned to the campus a hero. But since then, his idealism has soured, as the battles over lucrative assets and political power in the oil-rich nation

continue. “The people who were part of therevolution feel like they are not even Libyan anymore,” he said. “What was it all about?” Local conflicts across Libya are nowcast into a larger, divisive context. On one side is Prime Minister Abdullah al Thinni’s Tobruk-based government, bolstered by the “Operation Dignity” military campaign of Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a Gadhafi-era defector who long lived in the United States before returning to Libya in 2011. The Tobruk-based government is recognized as Libya’s legitimate authority by the United States, the European Union,

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. On the other side are the “Libyan Dawn” forces and their government, led by Prime Minister Omar al Hassi, which

seized control of Tripoli, the capital, last year and are backed by Turkey and Qatar. A ruling by Libya’s Supreme Court declared the Tobruk-based House of Representatives illegal and unconstitutional. The international community has largely ignored the court decision.

Glossing over the diverse makeup and schisms within each coalition, the Dignity alliance brands Libyan Dawn as Islamic extremists, while the Tripoli government condemns its adversaries as former Gadhafi loyalists. Both descriptions arguably are inaccurate.

The violence killed 2,825 people last year and forced another 400,000 Libyans from their homes, according to the website Libya Body Count.

By Rebecca Murray

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