I left for London the morning after pro-regime forces in Tripoli tried to make me take up arms to attack the rebel forces.
Me and some friends were stopped in the street last week and asked if we were pro- or anti-Gaddafi. Of course, there was no question of revealing the truth – we said we supported him. In response, the soldiers told us to hand over our ID cards and in return would be given weapons.
They showed us machine guns and said we would get them together with a box of 60 bullets each; when we ran out of ammunition we should just come back to be given more. We were told that if anybody demonstrated any anti-Gaddafi sentiment, if there was even a suggestion they might be opposed to the regime, then we were free to fire at will, to shoot to kill, no questions asked.
A lot of people in my part of the city had already been given guns – dregs of society, drunks, 16 or 17-years old. I even met a 15-year-old with a gun, who together with some friends had set up their own checkpoint in a Tripoli neighbourhood. My father’s friend’s son was passing through the area and didn’t see this checkpoint because the streets were dark – he was shot and killed.
We had heard all about the murdering and theft in Tripoli and elsewhere to which the government had turned a blind eye. My cousin’s house was broken into by ten armed men who gang-raped the housekeeper and stole everything they could. They took all the gold they found in the house, and safes they couldn’t immediately open they carried away with them.
I have heard the same story over and over again. Even a couple of my employees went through the same experience, although luckily there were no women in their houses when they were robbed.
The government lets anyone who wants a gun to have one, and allows them to do whatever they want, as long as they can be counted on to stand by the regime and wave the pro-Gaddafi flag when required. No witnesses, no legal process, just 60 bullets every time they run out of ammunition.
When we were offered these machine guns, we tried to explain that we had left our IDs at home. The soldiers asked for our passports; we said we didn’t have those either. But we pretended as if we were keen to come back and get the arms, that we wanted to defend the regime; we even said we had some other friends who we would bring back later that day to be armed as well.
I have lived in Tripoli for the last six years and was there when the protests broke out. When the unrest started, most of my family, including my parents and my wife, who is pregnant, left for London. I stayed until I got a call from a trusted friend who is very high up in the government who told me, “You should get out.” Later that day, the soldiers offered us guns.
I left Tripoli the next morning, using my British passport.
Now I am on my way back to Libya. I am travelling to Benghazi via Cairo to offer my help to the freedom fighters. They need people who can speak English there to help with the media reports, and I am also taking in a load of medicines which I hope will reach the right people.
We would love a no-fly zone. Gaddafi is using mercenaries from many different countries and they are gaining ground because of the firepower the regime’s army has both from the air and from boats. The mercenaries are being paid 1,000 dinar (800 US dollars) a day to kill as many of the so-called rebels as they can.
Gaddafi is winning during the day, even though at night the freedom fighters are gaining ground again. But this can’t go on much longer.
The freedom fighters are happy to give their life for this struggle but they won’t be able to win without a no-fly zone. If there is no international intervention, if no-one does anything to help our cause, then I think Benghazi will collapse within a week or two. It is a city of nearly one million people and I have no doubt that at least 150,000 people will be killed. The government will target everyone.
Of course I am scared. But what we might gain by fighting now is worth it. If everyone was simply scared then we would be dealing with the same corrupt, murderous regime forever.
I want to see a free Libya, and I hope Gaddafi and his family and his cronies never make it out of the country alive. To be frank, I wish him death. Otherwise this will never end.
Mohamed is a Tripoli businessman. He declined to give his full name for security reasons. This article appeared in IWPR’s Arab Spring No. 6, 14 Mar 11