“When I grow up, I want to be just like you guys,” this increasingly flaccid middle-aged American visitor joked to his teenage to early 30’s Libyan interlocutors, as we parted last night and promised to meet again soon to continue our dialogue on our chosen subject of “What the hell is going on in Libya and why?”
Except I wasn’t entirely joking and I felt wistful as I reflected on our latest five-hour conversation that seemed like it began only 30 minutes earlier. Rather like one of those rare college classes during which the professor’s lecture and the classroom discussion were so interesting that you felt disappointed when the class ended.
One thing most foreigners and the local population agree on in western Libya is that there were few signs in early February that eastern Libya would erupt as it did and many are still unclear what and who caused it and why and how. But when half a dozen bright, energetic, nationalistic Libyan under and post-graduate students agreed to a no-holds-barred discussion, it was a real joy to participate. Specific questions posed and opinions expressed by Libyan students in Tripoli and its suburbs, cannot be said to represent attitudes in the east of Libya, one third of the country still largely under rebel control. This, despite the Al Fatah student’s insistence that a majority of their friends, family and tribes from Benghazi and the East, even with that regions veneer of salafist and jihadist entrenched pockets, would largely agree with their views.
Eastern Libya has a long history of antipathy toward the Tripoli government from the days (1951) when the crumbling British Empire installed, with Italy’s agreement, Idriss Senussi as Monarch to look after its interests. The King of Libya, Idriss I, was overthrown by the Colonel Qaddafi led Fatah Revolution in 1969. Today, one of the goals of some of the groups comprising the “National Transition Council” is the restoration of the Monarchy, promoted by the Senussi tribe. Students here in Tripoli report that some of their relatives and friends in the Senussi tribe based in Benghazi know that Al Qaeda elements will oppose a Monarchy even if they are currently mute and for now sticking to their CIA-supplied script on this subject of democracy and human rights for all including women.
Our “Libyan Forum 101” as we agreed to title it, asked the Libyan students to formulate and table for discussion key questions that they believe must be answered in order to understand and resolve what it called here, “Our crisis.”
The questions turned out to be the easy part and reflect widespread sentiment in the West of Libya, whether or not they resonate in Benghazi and its environs.
My young friend Hassan, an English literature student quickly offered three tough questions for group discussion after apologizing for being late and explaining that security had increased on the streets of Tripoli following reports of rebel infiltrations and sabotage that Qaddafi had eluded to on TV the night before. Hassan repeated what we have heard from others, which was that there was some gunfire downtown and an Al Jazeera report of a bomb blast at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel under construction.
Ismail, a business student scoffed at the mention of Al Jazeera which, like the BBC and CNN, are widely thought to be highly biased if not actual rebel propagandists whose reports have sometimes been rife with. BBC’s website is blocked yet again from the Internet by the government here and the BBC Tripoli bureau just got their new replacement producer, Daniel Fisher, a pleasant fellow who introduced himself this morning, apparently mistaking me for Jack Nicolson. Daniel’s arrival follows Libyan government complaints and the departure of the BBC’s previous reporter who, following the one million plus pro-Qaddafi rally at Green Square on 11/9/11, which lasted well into the evening, reported that those he saw leaving Tripoli the next morning were “fleeing Tripoli and that the Qaddafi stronghold could “implode at any time.”
That BBC report was total nonsense. Those families the BBC and CNN reporters claimed were “fleeing” were simply returning to the Tripoli suburbs whence they came having partied and slept over in the city.
Hassan tabled his questions: “Who appointed the Libyan Contact Group to get involved in our country and what legitimacy does its NATO memberships have to order the UN’s Secretary General (7/17/11) to impose conditions for resolving the crisis without both the Tripoli and Benghazi groups involved?
Does NATO, having set up the LCG, have the right to order around the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary-General and his staff?
Amani, who just got a job with Libyan Sports TV, tabled several questions for discussion:
“How can the US and NATO pretend to respect international law when NATO has killed more than 1,100 Libyan civilians claiming to be abiding by UN Resolutions 1970 & 1973, which NATO interprets as its sees fit and is using military operations to achieve political goals. UN Resolutions concerning our country limited NATO involvement to establishing a “no-fly zone” which was achieved in two days. Did the UN authorize the additional four months of bombing or the expansion of the original mission to numerous assassination attempts on our leaders and massive infrastructure destruction?”
Amani added: “Also, why was there no effort to send a UN fact-finding mission to our country to really investigate the false sensationalist media and rebel reports coming from the rebels despite repeated Libyan, Arab and African calls for to come and see and establish the facts.”
Sanaa, a nursing student asked: “Why Libya? We have had good relations with the US and Europe since 2003. It is well known that the CIA and Libya worked together a lot as recently as 2009-2010. Does the US only attack when a country has oil? Zimbabwe’s government has treated its people much worse than ours but there was no intervention. What about Bahrain, Yemen and Syria? Any civilians being threatened in those countries who need Obama’s humanitarian intervention?”
Nadia, a medical student tabled the question: “Can all the misinformation about what has happened to our country from the beginning of the third week of February be innocent accidents or poor reporting? For example, all those stories like the Viagra and alcohol-fueled rapes, the western media reports of our government mass slaughtering of civilians, Tripoli ready to implode on the top of our leaders, the claims that Colonel Qaddafi has no legitimacy or popular support, that there is chaos in the streets of Tripoli with the population being terrified, or that our leader is wounded and fled to Venezuela and on and on. Who created all these false reports and why?”
Imad, an engineering student asked: “Why did NATO bomb our civilian air traffic control tower last weekend wounding more civilians? Even our airport director said the ATC system is 100 per cent civilian. So have IATA and some American officials.”
Hind, an IT student and volunteer with a women’s group asked: “Do the Americans and NATO expect a post Qaddafi Libya will please them more if they succeed in outing our leader? Do they have any idea how much anger their aggression has created among our people? They are making our leader into a very popular personality not just in Libya and Africa with people everywhere who oppose US wars and its attempted hegemony. Can the US and NATO ever hope to bring about reconciliation? Will the next government be all that much better?”
These students’ questions remain unanswered and indeed the questions here are becoming more frequent and intense.
Students at Al Nasser University and their countrymen are demanding answers from the White House, NATO and even from the distrusted western media housed in Tripoli’s Rexis Hotel. To date none of the above has been able to provide coherent answers.