Sunday August 10 2014

The Libya I don’t know



The year 2009 does not seem so far behind us, yet it feels like 100 years since I made my only visit to Tripoli. It was a dream visit, one during which I attended an amazing Libyan wedding of my friend’s daughter.

Seven nights of cheerful parties, delicious local food and dressing up like a princess. The beautiful culture and hospitality were also legendary.

Knowing that Libya has the fifth largest oil reserves in the world, I arrived in Tripoli with high hopes of a very modern city with amazing infrastructure. My expectations were dashed on the stones of reality when I found a very modest, old airport.

The person who picked me up read my body language. He said many years ago the ruler of the United Arab Emirates visited Tripoli and was so impressed with what he saw. He wanted the Emirates to one day look like Tripoli.

“Really?” I asked him, he replied: “Yes, and here we are, a few decades later, look how advanced the United Arab Emirates has become and we are still stagnant.”

Time to adventure
After indulging in the bounties bestowed upon me by my hosts, it was time to venture alone. Like any other country I visited, I went to a recommended tour agency but the most unexpected procedure was to follow.

I had to wait for a permission from “higher authorities” to be able to sit in the bus and leave Tripoli for a tour. I was told this was for my safety.

As I waited for the permission, I walked in the souks and got a chance to chat with the locals. Of course speaking Arabic made me blend in easily as they spoke little English.

While on the surface people pretended all was well, when I gained their trust, they did tell me they were unhappy that in such a rich country, infrastructure was so bad and that only the ruling family and some officials had privileges and others not.

The next day, I had been granted permission. One of the people who told me a lot of such stories was a young graduate taxi driver who was very upset at his poor financial situation.

So, after sharing his woes and as I was leaving the taxi, he told me: “I hope you remember that the stories I told in this car, will stay here.” I looked at him and replied with a smile: “Which stories?”

This incident and many other conversations were such clear indications of a society that lived in fear of even expressing an opinion.

So now that the wall of fear is crushed, and the government changed, what is happening to Libya? My Libyan friends are living -again-in fear for their lives. So will there ever be an end to this violence?