Michael's Dispatches

Libya Spot Report



16 March 2012

An experienced friend is currently in Tripoli and writes:

I’m telling you, you should get your butt over here to Libya - it’s a really interesting place.  I know everyone’s mind is on Afghanistan these days, but there’s really no comparison. The two countries could not be more different – at least from what I can see here in Tripoli.


I haven’t had an opportunity to get far out of Tripoli, so my observations are limited to the capital area, but still, I can’t help feeling optimistic about Libya.  Everyone may be in the honeymoon phase a bit, post-Ghadaffi, but from what I have observed, most Libyans here in Tripoli have laid down their weapons and cheerfully gone back to work.  You do see the militias, but they are no longer running checkpoints around the city and seem to confine themselves mostly to milling around their compounds or hanging out on a street corner.  You still see the odd technical – like the DShK I saw mounted in the back of a pickup in the city center yesterday – but very few armed men in the streets.


Tripoli itself does not appear to have taken much damage in the NATO bombing raids.  The only major damage I’ve seen is to the military installations just outside the city and of course on Ghadaffi’s compounds, which were basically leveled.  I’m kicking myself for not taking a photo of the billboard I saw near one of Ghadaffi’s ruined compounds that said “Thank You, NATO!”  The only major destruction I’ve seen inside the city was to one of Saif Gaddafi’s houses, where all the windows were shot out and the walls appeared to have been peppered with RPG and small arms fire.  You still hear occasional gunshots, usually at night, but it sounds to me like people just letting off the odd burst for the hell of it.  I’ve heard nothing that sounded like an actual gunfight – despite what some of the journalists around here might be reporting.  In fact, you might want to check that out, because I’m really starting to feel that some of the journalists over here may be sensationalizing their reports a bit.  But then, I haven’t been here that long, so maybe there are things I’ve missed.


As for the city itself, Tripoli has much to offer.  It’s right on the water, has access to many historical sites, including many Greek and Roman ruins, and seems to have pretty good infrastructure.  Since the end of the revolution, there have been efforts to clean things up in the city, but they do have a ways to go.  Although there is still a lot of trash in the streets in some areas, they have done things like re-painting historic buildings in order to spruce up the place.  I’ve been consistently impressed with the quality of the buildings and infrastructure here.  The roads are quite good, with a modern highway system that looks very similar to what you would see in the States.  Other than the trash problem, municipal services are up and running, with power, water, and sewer systems all functioning as they would in any developed country.


I think the thing that strikes me the most is the people’s ability to hold things together, even without much government presence.  The locals I’ve met here all say there has not been a huge increase in crime, despite relatively few police on the streets.

I don’t know if this is true, but one of our favorite taxi drivers told us yesterday that when the rebels started closing in on him, Ghadaffi released several thousand prisoners from jail (why? Our interlocutor just shrugged and said, “because Ghadaffi was CRAZY”), but instead of running off, most of the prisoners actually gave themselves up again and went back to prison.  This sense of order seems to prevail around here.  For example, despite a complete lack of traffic police, I would say that about 80% of the drivers here obey traffic lights and road signs.


As for the people, they are all quite friendly.  Of the locals I’ve found who speak English, they all say the same thing: Libyan people love life.  I can’t know what things look like in rural areas, but here in the city that does seem to be the case.  That’s not to say that they aren’t concerned about the future, because they are.  But so far, I’ve seen no evidence that there are any hard-core Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamists hanging around the city.  Most women do wear headscarves, but you see them driving everywhere and there is free mixing of the sexes, so that’s an encouraging sign that people don’t seem to be outwardly too conservative.  Here’s a good example: there’s a statue of a naked woman in the middle of one of the fountains in town.


Apparently, there have been a few people making a stink about it, but most of the locals could care less.  You also see naked people on some of the Roman ruins in town and no one seems too bothered by that either.  I know these things can change quite rapidly, but for the moment, logical minds seem to be prevailing.  I guess that’s what happens when you have a pretty educated and literate population.  The ethnic composition of the city is mixed, with about 10-15% of the residents being black Africans.  Many of them are 2nd or 3rd generation Libyans though and are not refugees or guest workers from sub-Saharan Africa.  There are also a number of Turks, Tunisians, and many Egyptians here.  The latter appear to dominate the service industry – for example, at all the hotels I’ve been to, the staff are all Egyptian.


Overall, everyone seems to be holding their breath a bit until the elections in June.  Although the East, dominated by Benghazi, is pushing for a semi-autonomous state, which some people fear could lead to a civil war, I can’t help feeling that they’ll work things out somehow.  All I know is that it would be a shame for things to devolve into chaos here.  I think there’s opportunity in Libya for the development of a modern, somewhat secular state, friendly to both Europe and the U.S., but I think we in the west need to help guide things a bit – mostly through foreign investment.  Personally, I think we should stay out of their business when it comes to politics.  I have to agree with a local friend I met here a couple of days ago – Libya might not be ready for full-blown democracy just yet, and we might screw things up if we insist they try to go down that road.  Just look at Afghanistan and how well “democracy” is working out there!


Anyway, I still think you should come check it out.  There’s not much American involvement here at the moment – I’ve only met two others since I’ve been here and they’ve been working and living in Morocco for several years, so they’re not exactly new arrivals.  I think the American people might like to know what’s going on over here since we bankrolled most of the revolution.  And after being jaded by Afghanistan for so long, this place is something of a palate cleanser.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan · 9 years ago
    Sorry, but when I see the peace sign and hear Allahu Akbar, at the same time. I don't buy it!
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Ryden · 9 years ago
      [quote name="Dan"]Sorry, but when I see the peace sign and hear Allahu Akbar, at the same time. I don't buy it![/quote]

      "Allahu Akbar" means "God is great", and they're talking about the same God that is worshipped in Christianity and Judaism. What history do you even base your judgement of Libya on? They've been ruled by Ghaddafi for God knows how long, and before him was a king. They've never been allowed to chose their own leader, so how can you just assume that they're planning how to strike against the "great US satan"? Play this right and Libya might actually become the third Middle Eastern democracy that likes the USA.
      • This commment is unpublished.
        Dan · 9 years ago
        I did not say that Libya could become a danger for the US or any other country. I’m just saying that someone who is showing the peace-sign and yells Allahu Akbar at the same time, is somewhat different than the western implementation of it. Sure you must understand? Besides that, there are no two gods; there are not even hundreds of gods! It’s all made up! They brainwashed people with it. Religion is like poison. It affects peoples behavior and most of the time; nothing good comes out of it, except dead and misery! Don’t blame me; look at world’s history. But to come back to the subject; As an western I don’t like to support a peace-sign waving religious group, who when liberated from their oppressor, finally sees the freedom to start suppressing other groups in their country even more. Because they are different or thinks differently, than they are! And that my friend, is not freedom. …..Peace!
        • This commment is unpublished.
          Ryden · 9 years ago
          If the country is currently in the medieval ages then yes, religion can be taken advantage of by people who only wish to enhance their own lives. However, Libya is not. It's kind of like Iraq was under Saddam: a largely secular country, that is technologically developed. It's not Afghanistan, and as long as it doesn't fall into another civil war (which the outside world is perfectly capable of preventing), I really doubt that the Libyans will go apeshit (pardon the language) and let hardline Islamistis run the country.
          • This commment is unpublished.
            Dan · 9 years ago
            Let us hope for the best! ;-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Da Moose · 9 years ago

    But then there is this...

    "Break the cross of the dogs"

  • This commment is unpublished.
    a&n · 9 years ago
    Sorry...but I've heard the opposite from people there on the ground. All is not love and peace in Libya.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    cassandra · 9 years ago
    Did this person see any women walking about? There were none in the photos. The sign of normal society is when women feel free to walk on public. Otherwise I think this is wishful thinking.

    Thanks for the great posts though!!
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Ryden · 9 years ago
      I think it's more of a Middle Eastern/Muslim thing. The man is the boss concerning outside matters, and the wife is the boss concerning what goes on inside the house, because that's were they are most of the day occupied with household chores when they're not at the market buying food.

      Besides, you could only really see people in two of the photos.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Neville · 9 years ago
    OK, the Afghans are the most nationalistic and fiercest warriors we have faced BUT wait until the Muslim Brotherhood starts thinning the ranks of the freddom-loving Libyans. You won't see no more "Thank you, NATO!" signs. Count on it!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jetdrvr · 9 years ago
    As long as you like crawling around third-world sh*t holes, you might check out Kampala and see what's happening with the Spec Ops boys going after the LRA. Over 5,000,000 people have been killed in the Congo wars since the Ugandan genocide. That video about Kony went viral last week, but Africa's world war had been going on for years and few Americans even know about it. What the Hell... It's only Africa again. Right?

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