'We Don't Want Our Revolution Stolen': On the Ground in Libya
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Every evening just after four, Benghazi’s main thoroughfare is overtaken by a raucous group of some 200 cheering women and children and gun-toting men headed toward a sunset gathering in front of the city’s dilapidated courthouse on the Mediterranean. It is the loudest moment of the day, with passing cars blaring their horns, and intermittent gunfire let off by trigger-happy young men in four-wheel-drive vehicles. The women raise spirited chants against Gadhafi, urging people to stay steadfast in their resistance.
Seventeen-year-old Hanin Gheriani, giddy with a newfound fearlessness, says she has no doubt life will be better in the new Libya. “We used to be so afraid to speak, now we can say whatever we want. We are finally free.” The mood is light, even festive.
But this brief daily spectacle of celebration is deceptive. As the Libyan uprising enters its fourth month, people in the liberated eastern part of the country are playing a waiting game, and for many, patience is running thin. The spontaneous jubilation that marked the early days of the revolution is all but gone. In its place, an unmistakable sense of weariness and uncertainty fills the cool springtime air.
Concerns of a civil war or an Islamist takeover do not predominate here; most people laugh these off as overblown Western fears that are not grounded in Libyan realities. “Civil war, tribal loyalties, Al Qaeda, these are all bogeymen raised by Gaddafi and his son, Saif al-Islam in the early days of the uprising. This is not what people in Libya are afraid of,” asserts Naim Ali, a former correspondent with the independent news website Libya Today, who now directs Al Jazeera Arabic’s Benghazi office. Now that the fate of the uprising is almost wholly in the hands of those with the best weapons, foremost on people’s minds is how much longer they must wait for the regime to fall.
It has been weeks since the frontline has moved past the strategic crossroads town of Ajdabiya, just 100 miles southwest of Benghazi. The initial exuberance over the no-fly zone and NATO’s air support is tempered daily by horrific stories of violence from the western city of Misrata and grim reports of continued attacks by
Gadhafi's forces against towns in the western mountains and southern oases. The Transitional National Council that is now leading the popular uprising continues to insist that its armed forces will bring
Gadhafi to his knees in a matter of weeks. Yet the unmoving frontline tells a different tale.
Journalists are no longer allowed near the actual frontline—for safety reasons, the Council argues—so it is impossible to independently confirm the presence of trainers or weapons from France, Italy, Qatar, the UK, or the United States. The training camps that journalists do have access to, on the outskirts of Benghazi and further along the road to Ajdabiya, are sadly comical and do little to inspire confidence in the ability of this army to make any advances on
Gadhafi's troops. Filled with young recruits straight out of high school, the barracks are overflowing with
Gadhafi's aging stash of weapons, some of which date back almost half a century.
The trainers at these camps are all Libyans, some of them military men who joined the charismatic young Colonel
Gadhafi soon after his 1969 coup against King Idriss. Denying reports to the contrary, generals at the camps insisted they have not seen evidence of any foreign military or intelligence training, and are still waiting for better equipment. Innovation is key here, they insist. Indeed, the man in charge of refurbishing and testing anti-aircraft weaponry to be sent to the frontlines is a hydraulic engineer by training with no experience in armaments.