Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Libyan Currency: where is the democracy ?

Tawasul news agency announced on Facebook the imminent issue/arrival of the newly minted Libyan currency of a which I'm publishing a photo below taken from their website.

In my humble opinion  and my knowledge of economics is limited to non-existent, a new currency is not the top priority in Libya.  If true the new money looks nice but we should not be wasting money on it we could have survived with the old Libyan notes, even the ones with Gaddafi's face on and thank God it was only the One Dinar currency and more recently the 50 Dinar currency which I actually rarely saw since it came to the market a year or so ago. 

Some people say that having these new banknotes will make the ones taken out of the country invalid and so help restore the economy and will hit those who have been hoarding money and starving the marked of cash. So re-introducing badly needed cash would hit two birds with one stone... maybe I really don't know how this works and if this is the solution to fight all the war profiteers. Yet again I think a new currency would have been the last step before the transitional period ended in 2013. Like this it feels to me as if someone has made a business deal somewhere but most importantly who decided this step ? have Libyans been asked about their opinion? has their been a national referendum ? What a waste of time and resources...

I hope I'm wrong... what do you think ?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bab Al Azizia: dark memories, unilateral decisions and dirty politics

The Bab Al Azizia barracks have been there for as long as I can remember, in recent years the outside walls were repainted and the surrounding streets restyled  but it still looked formidable and forbidding.

It has been so much a fact of life that we tried to tune it out.  However, whenever we passed nearby I could never help being nervous that my car would breakdown  and I would be shot and I believe most of us even avoided looking its way, or at other cars...

This heavy omnipresence was stifling and only in early November did I actually venture inside the compound.  I saw people visiting from literally all over Libya, people who had made the  trip especially to shake away those bygone ghosts and see for themselves that the most despised place for them was no longer a threat. I still cannot believe that the place that symbolized more than anything else the Gaddafi regime no longer existed. The walls and every single building in that compound has been destroyed.

I do remember that many of us were talking what should be done with Bab Al Azizia and many spoke online that they wanted a park, but I don't remember any countrywide poll about this!

Somehow,  I'm not happy that it has been razed to the ground I think that was just done too soon and without checking with the Libyan people. It is unfair for the rest of Libyans to have prevented them for having access and seeing for themselves the layout of the place.

The sprawling compound is eerie and  I expect ghosts to come out anytime it's even dangerous now, all this rubble and the open tunnels. Is it even environmentally safe? is there asbestos exposed? Who took the decision to raze it so unprofessionally and to burn the living quarters there and what about the school ? why destroy the school for God's sake ? children from the neighbouring  buildings used to go there and now they have nowhere to go. What a waste of resources!

By all means I want to see a park there, but I also wanted to have some mementos kept to remind us of  how dictatorships can happen if we let our vigilance slip. Why have some rebel fighters taken the golden fist statue to Misrata?  In my opinion it should have remained here it's not about war trophies it's about history.
It would have been a great theme park but now it is a wasteland, full of rubbish , revolutionary tourist items, looters who have taken the wiring, the stuff in the houses, the things hidden in the underground tunnels and I was actually afraid that there might be some unexploded ordnance somewhere when  driving or walking  around to explore. It's a place of desolation for me. Not sure how you can have picnic there with all the piled up waste. I'm disappointed. I had imagined foreigners coming from all over the world to see Gaddafi's feared tunnels,  people exploring them and seeing in which part of the city they ended up, I imagined photo shoots next to the Fist golden statue, I imagined people taking turns to appear on his balcony and make a speech something like the Speaker's  Corner in Hyde Park. I wanted the buildings to be professionally removed with some of them converted to museums if possible.....but I did not want this mess. Reconstruction is very difficult while destruction takes so little time. The tunnels would have brought so much income to the park authorities and would have helped towards the cost of the maintenance.

A counter argument could be that destroying the compound prevents any militia from making it a fortress, but I don't believe the person(s) who made this decision  thought so analytically.

They say there is no use crying over spilled milk and I agree but I still wanted to voice my opinion and that this way of things suits all those war profiteers which are always present like vultures in every combat in any place in the world. This destruction makes it easier to loot the place unpunished like so much of the  public property (and private) during and after this war in Libya. All Libyans had a right to Bab Al Aziziya  and someone just took our right away.

Apparently a contest to redesign the place has been launched, nice idea but I still hope to see that Fist back in Tripoli in the park whenever it is finished ! It starts with little things and ends up with people holding a country hostage to have their way in the government  and those that don't get their way well the the big fish somehow slip away instead again to show the government who is really boss. 

March in support of the victims of rape in Libya: "You are not Alone … We are here for you"

(taken from Facebook - organized by the Phoenix group)

On the occasion of the "International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women", Organized, and in participation of civil society entities in several Libyan cities

We announce the beginning of the national initiative to support & help the brave Libyan rape victims on Saturday 26 -11-2011. The initiative will include an awareness raising campaign and related lectures given by legal, religious & psychological specialists on how to offer psychological support to he victims and their families and how to help them rise above the challenges they face in our society and how to reintegrate in the society .

There will be a silent protest in front of the prime ministry headquarters (previously the general people’s committee headquarters) Sekka road. Also there will be a similar silent protest taking place Misrata in order to draw the transitional national council and Mr . Elkeeb’s government - and all officials who are of concern within it – attention to this category of war victims who haven’t received the sufficient care and support yet.

To those who are interested in joining the protest (Tripoli) :

• The protest will be taking place on November 26th . 2011 . The initial gathering spot in Tripoli will be Ben Ashour street in front of zuwadah restaurant at 11 Am .
• The march will go along Ben Ashour street to Alqadisiya square and to Sekka street at the prime ministry Headquarters till 3 pm .
• The unified dressing code will be white and pink tops in solidarity with rape victims.
• Please put a duck tape across your mouth to symbolize the silence this case is being dealt with.
• Due to the sensitivities of this subject please abide with the banners , slogans shared by the organizers .


• Alhurria square with the same hours, banners, dressing code as Benghazi & Tripoli .

Our Demands:

• To adjust the penal code legislation & raise the bar of the rape crime penalty in accordance to shari’a .
• To provide logistic and financial support to the NGOs welling to undertake the set up of psychological support programs and provide needed assistance to raped women.
• To improve and strengthen the role played by “The Islamic Invitation Association “ to raise the religious awareness of the victims and their families to prevent “ honour crimes “ and similar forms of abuse to the victims .
• To urge the national media outlets to provide a more brave and open approach in the discussion of this case, and what has been done about it and to discuss the “ honour crimes “ affecting this category by their families and to help as a powerful tool to raise and spread awareness and support messages to encourage those who are affected to seek help by the specialized centres

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Qaddafistan Perversion

Today's post was going to be about a movie  I watched a few  weeks ago when I was travelling but something else happened instead which led me to change the topic so you will read about the movie next time.

This morning I decided to go for a walk downtown and check  the Libyan printed press. Since the liberation of Tripoli in August many new titles have sprung up and we are also getting the papers from Benghazi and other cities in Libya which is so refreshing and feels very strange....A glossy magazine called Loloat Almutawaset caught my eye among the many choices on display nowadays because I did not notice it before. I think it looked so professional that I assumed it was an Arab paper although I should have recognized the guy on the cover page but anyway  we have just finished a war I could be excused for not noticing many things :)!

Taking a closer look I found it  was issue no.1  from October so this was going to be a monthly magazine great. I looked at the lead titles and  the topic that jumped at me was "The orphanage victims" or the daughters of Quaddafi ( my comment)  I purchased it for 3 Libyan Dinars.

The article was an interview by  Abdelbasset Alsherif with a 30 year  old Libyan woman who grew up in an orphanage in Libya. I summarised it briefly from the Arabic for you.

Orphanages in Libya were a red line in the Quaddafi era. The author is calling this woman Krista so I will use the same name. Krista was born in the orphanage and was given to adoption to a Libyan family She only learned that she was an orphan at the age of 6 when her step father died ( probably because the rest of the family asked about inheritance). I believe she ends up in this interview because of her role as a Quaddafi human shield in Bab Alaziziya.

She tells stories about being forced by the orphanage management  as a child to attend events where Quaddafi is to show up and how she felt just like a movie extra, where he would be nice to her and the others for a couple of days and then her role will be over and the niceties with it once the event was over. Krista explains that most orphans were given for 'adoption' and  if you were lucky you got a decent family if not you ended up in a brothel.
After the death of her adoptive parents it seems she was left to fend for herself. Moreover, the orphanage although it called these girls Quaddafi's daughters did not spend any penny on them  but either left them to fend for themselves/thew them to the street or gave them up for prostitution  as only a limited number with certain specifications was kept. The majority of the  girls became prostitutes and the guys drug dealers.  ( personally I suspect that some of the guys became gay prostitutes too as some of my foreign friends  sadly reported they found many on the sea front ). Krista  did many jobs including washing cars  and  even mounted satellite dishes on rooftops to survive ! and no one would help her because of the label that she and her likes were Quaddafi's daughters so they were supposed to have everything. Even when the orphanage would do the occasional multiple marriage gig it was apparently a big lie as the girls would be thrown out after a couple of days of being abused.....or end up sex slaves in a hotel. The money that the orphanage management would receive from donations and the state all went into the deep pockets of the corrupt officials.

About her limited role in Bab Alaziziya she says that she went there for the food and to get some money but she stopped going there when  it became obvious that there was drugs, alcohols and fornication. She then volunteered as a guard in the former Green Square and after that was sent on a mission to Misrata.

How she ended up in Misrata? she and the others were asked to guard an aid caravan that was supposedly going to Misrata but instead  to her horror they took them to a camp to be trained to kill. She ran away with one of the male volunteers. She hid in the city of Gharian until the liberation of that city. Krista is feeling very guilty for supporting Quaddafi and being misled like this and is saying that she is one of hundreds of other lost girls  from the Libyan orphanages that need to be rescued from a life of prostitution in order to survive.She also asks that we should not to forget the guys as well. She is asking the revolutionary youth not to denigrate those lost young men and women as they are simply victims of Quaddafi.

After I read this article I was deeply troubled, so I thought I'd surf the twitting people to change my mood and there someone sent me the following link: Viagra munching  Gaddafi. This article is about Faisal,  Quaddafi's manservant, Chef ( and probably occasional bed companion).

"He was a law student at Tripoli University when Gaddafi came to speak. Afterwards the dictator asked his office to track down several of the students. Gaddafi’s lectures were notorious; he would speak about his Green Book and then take his pick of the women to a room near the lecture hall with a double bed.
The university dean told Faisal that Gaddafi wanted him to be his private servant. When he refused, his family was threatened; to continue to refuse would mean death."

Faisal of course ended in this article because on Quaddafi's fall he was taken as a prisoner by the freedom fighters for being close to the dictator.

After reading about Faisal's woes  and  the world of perversion he uncovered I was even more depressed because everything we suspected was going on in Libya turned out to be true and even worse than we ever imagined. So I closed Twitter and I tried to cheer myself up by checking on my friends on Facebook, and  what do I find there among the many shared articles this time in French: " A Kadhafi sex slave talks about her ordeal" !

22 year old Safia life is destroyed when Quaddafi's team kidnap her in Sirte at the age of 15  to take her to him. Quaddafi picked her up among the students who were chosen to hand him flowers when he visited  her school. She was taken to his tent in the desert and told she would have riches etc... and would live with him from now on. Which is exactly what happened, he put her in his harem in Bab Alaziziya, where he kept Libyan adolescent women and also brought in some foreigners occasionally and proceeds to rape her for the next five years until her escape in 2009  During those years he forces her to drink, smoke  and  get drugged  on top of everything else and her parents are threatened with death if they complain. Safia  lifts the veil even further on the debauchery going on in Quaddafi's life and that of his henchmen and foreign visitors (something like Berlusconi's Bunga Bunga parties ... maybe that's why they were such friends ? ). She also talks about his famous body guards ( but I will make a separate post about that). After her escape her mum wants to marry her to an elderly widowed cousin which she refuses. She finally gets married this year in April but is separated from her husband who is apparently hurt during the war ( we are not told  if he is from the rebels of from the Q team but I understand from the context that he is from the rebels). She does not feel safe to return home because of the possibility of being assassinated by some Quaddafi loyalist remnants but mostly due to the stigma attached to her past. She says  'the woman is always the culprit' [no matter what].

Reading all these dark pieces today printed all over the globe from Australia, Libya and France and which drag the honour of Libyan men and women in the gutters, I felt that I wanted to vomit and that I needed to write about it to exorcise these demons, but also to pass on the message that these young men and women are simply helpless victims. None of them should feel guilty either for supporting Quaddafi during the war like Krista or for being forced to  pimp men and women  for him like Faisal or for being a sex slave like Safia and all the other people he abused. These people had no other choice except suicide to escape his filth and even then they could not guarantee he would not abuse their whole families, which is exactly what he does, so sacrificing oneself is the only solution  in case you have a family. In Krista's case no one was going to help her even work as a maid as people would suspect her of wanting to seduce the man of the family or be a bad influence on the kids, or just for being a bastard, so either she kills herself or prostitutes herself, since suicide is forbidden in Islam and she did not want to be a prostitute she worked like a man and volunteered as a guard during the war.

Our society is very very unforgiving in matters of honour, and now post revolution we are also very suspicious of everyone involved with Quaddafi.. But people like Krista are small fish and they have no blood on their hands and people like Faisal and Safia need years of rehabilitation.....I don't even know if my compatriots amidst all the horrors that took place in Libya for 42 years and until the war ended will be able to absorb how much these poor creatures deserve our pity and need our help. In the Libyan article the author concludes by asking   if Krista really believed that the Quaddafi era was over from the people's minds? She acquiesces that it is over.

Each one of us is somehow suffering post traumatic stress to one degree or another so personally I think the Quaddafi era can only be erased  from our minds once we feel compassion for all victims alike, such as the protagonists above and the alleged 8000 rape victims ( men/women/children) being investigated by the ICC  and not just the obvious ones like the dead, imprisoned, injured, amputees, missing  and displaced - that's a lot of suffering people.

Somebody would probably comment why bring this topic up, this is what the Western media likes to talk about there are more pressing issues to deal with. Yes that's true, Western media love sex scandals, and what happened in Libya and in Quaddafi's lair happens daily not only in other Arab countries but everywhere where power and money are absolute.;one recent very simple example is  the DSK scandal.

However, Quaddafi ruined the life of about six million people in Libya and this was one of the many facets of his savagery to us so if we don't get all this rot out, deal with it and move on it will keep hitting us in the face and prevent the advancement of the Libyan Society and any national reconciliation.