Libyans Find Historic Hope
"I’m 60 years old and I never thought I'd see this moment with my own eyes," Najib Taghuz tells IPS from the Tunisian-Libyan border. The engineer from the recently liberated town Gehryan is headed for Tunisia - his wife needs surgery on the left hand. But he hopes to return to a new Libya.
"When Gaddafi falls Libya will gain the right to say she has finally entered the 21st century," adds Taghuz. He wonders if he’ll be let into Tunisia with a souvenir he’s just grabbed on his way here - the shell of an anti-tank missile. "I really need to get this one across the border for my memories."
With the northern border between Tunisia and Libya closed – it was held by Gaddafi until a few days back - the southern rebel-held border crossing remains the only way in and out in the west of the war- torn country. The Dehiba-Wazzin post was taken over by rebels in April and controlled ever since as a vital hub for supplies into Libya’s Nafusa mountains.
With the Brega and Misrata fronts in a state of stalemate for months, Nafusa mountaineers have played a key role in the fast move towards Tripoli.
Activity at the border is hectic. But the joy of refugees returning home from the west of the country contrasts with the dismay of those still forced to flee Libya. "We did not feel safe back home in Tripoli,s so we drove all the way down here," Tripoli resident Hassan Harem tells IPS at the crossing.
"Conditions have been terrible for the last months: constant bombing by NATO aircraft, no fuel, often no food... after what we’ve all gone through we realised that we couldn’t cope with the shooting in the streets," adds Harem, a 32-year-old clerk who quit his job two months ago. But with a bit of luck, he says, he could return in just a few days.
Libyans are not the only ones fleeing across the southern border. Kadir Harthem, an ophthalmologist from Egypt, is one of the legion of foreign workers waiting to be evacuated by sea.
"Some colleagues said they were going to jump into a boat. As soon as I saw the opportunity I took my car and came down here." After seven years of working in Tripoli, he hopes to find a job back in Cairo.
Unlike the long and tiresome passport checks on the Tunisian side, the operation speeds up significantly on the side controlled by Libyan rebels: no need to fill forms, or open luggage for inspection. The rebel officer in command registers the passport in a database, and we are already in Libya.
Just three miles from there lies the town of Wazzin, which has very likely suffered the most among towns scattered around this bastion of stone 1,000 feet over the Libyan desert. Wazzin paid a price for its proximity to the disputed border. Attacks by Gaddafi’s forces turned this into a ghost town in ruins.
Just three weeks ago, this IPS reporter wasn’t able to find any Wazzin local to speak with. But after the recent NATO bombing of Ghezaia from where Gadaffi’s rockets were launched towards Wazzin, some locals have returned to rebuild their houses.
Just over 50 miles further into Libya is the checkpoint Nalut. Here three guerrilla fighters sitting under the shade beside the road are following the Tripoli events on live television.
"After driving away Gaddafi’s loyalists from their bases in the desert two weeks ago we managed to restore electricity. We needed seven days to repair the whole net but electricity is back to stay," a smiling rebel fighter in a Barcelona FC t-shirt and wearing a hat with the rebel flag tells IPS.
These are the days of Ramadan fasting. After sunset, and after prayers, guerrillas and local civilians gather daily in the town’s main square where the Red Cross serves free dinner.
Rebel Akram says he will return his rifle back as soon as he can, and get back to reopening his grocery store.
"I am 40 years old, two less than Gaddafi’s rule. I have not known any form of government other than his. I’ve always wondered what democracy was like and how long will we have to wait to enjoy it here in Libya." He may not have to wait long now.