Meet Libya’s New Democrats
Three scenes of Libya's new democrats starting with Yousef, the traveler. Yousef Obeidi is a young Libyan traveler from Benghazi who have spend nearly two decades abroad frequently visiting his home country. On his Facebook page he says "I'm a Libyan traveler from Benghazi living in Tripoli have travelled round 50 countries in Africa, Middle East, and Latin America."Last April Yousef was visiting his home town when he was picked up by "revolutionary" security officials. He spent the next nine days in jail eating only one meal a day. He was interrogated twice a day mostly blind folded. On his last day in jail he was accused of two offences: contacting the enemy (the Libyan regime in Tripoli that is) and spreading Col. Gathafi's green book in Africa during his travels there. Yousef was taken to the prosecutor's office at Benghazi's court house; symbol of February 17th revolution. After a short interview Yousef was set free. He says his crime is that he loves Col. Gathafi and that he was probably saved by his Spanish passport. In live TV interview from Cairo, where Yousef fled, he said that he will "tell his story live on TV soon." Never involved in politics, never worked for any government Yousef was astonished why he was detained by those claiming to bring democracy to Libya.
The second scene occurred on March 12th when I was invited to a meeting at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli; hub of foreign press since the Libyan revolt started. The meeting brought together Libyan academia and intellectuals in an effort to set up some kind of forum trying to find a common ground for Libyans to save their country. There were some fifty professors from Tripoli's Alfateh University and others, me included, from other institutions. Barely an hour into deliberations and most participant had not had chance to talk someone started reading final communiqué of the meeting. Mr. Musa Ibrahim, the current government spokesman, was standing by the door and reading the English version for the dozen foreign reporters. I raised my hand in objection immediately attracting media attention. I shouted saying that" we did not have chance to say anything, and if we are to be taken seriously we cannot accept a statement to express our opinion while none of us have read it" By then foreign reporters have circled me while a colleague was pulling me away from them whispering " we do not want to appear to have difference in front of the foreign press." Adding "That is what they want to show that we have differences".
The final scene took place in Tunis. In my first week in there I walked into café to find him right in front of me. He is an old acquaintance of mine but we have not met for years. We greeted each other rather dull because of what was going on in our country or I assumed so. He asked "when did you come and why"? We used to get along rather good back in 1980s and 1990s in Tripoli. We used to have a lot in common. Having been out of contact for so long I had no idea where he is politically. Without waiting for an answer and as if he was reading my mind he quickly asked "where is your friend" referring to a friend who used to be close to Saif il-Islam Gathafi for over a decade. I answered him with a question asking "why?" He was quick to say" we are preparing lists of people to be prosecuted once we topple the regime." Clearly he is claiming to be part of "the revolution" which erupted in Libya February 17. He went on to explain how lists of "criminals" are prepared and reviewed emphasizing that "no one will be spared just like Iraq" I asked why would that friend of mine be prosecuted knowing that he also knows him well and, actually, worked for him when he was unemployed. I believe that, that friend had never committed a crime as far as I know. He went on rather angrily by saying "anyone associated in any way with the regime will be tried and we have lots of documented crimes to go round." I continued listening to him. He rather enjoyed my attention and was generous in describing what the new democrats of Libya have in mind. He detailed some violent events I knew little of back in 1980s and earlier 1990s. He was very particular on corruption, extra judicial prosecutions and property confiscation which were practiced by the regime then. He went on for nearly an hour using every imaginable swearing word to describe his potential targets.
By three in the afternoon I excused myself and left. The man was so angry that I could not even stop him roaring. He was only echoing what I have heard on TV screens and read cross the Internet. Many opposition voices, hardly victorious, are already promising to "politically cleans" Libya once they are in control.
On my way home I was comparing the three scenes and what they mean for Libya. At the end of his illegal detention innocent Yousef was forced to sign undertaking that committing him never to work in politics which he does not anyway. The meeting at the Rexios was organized by pro regime, western educated, young educators yet they have the same chronicle regime disease intolerance of opposition which partially contributed to where Libya is now. The last scene at the café off Habib Bourguiba avenue was one of potential revenge lacking any credible democratic practices.
I wondered what kind of democracy awaits my country if this is the case while the symphony of death continues claiming lives every day. Mustafa Fetouri is an academic and political analyst based in Tripoli. He won the Samir Kassir Award for Best Opinion Article in 2010