The X-Y Generation
The dark days of the regime are dimming and with every liberated city the peoples’ spirits grow. The Arab spring that has blossomed across the Arab lands should lead to a bright summer of hope for the future.
Once Gadhafi literally becomes history our work as free Libyans will just begin.
Having lived through the revolution. I have cherished every moment during these historical times. Moments of fear and flight yet ironically at the same time happiness and laughter. I know one day as I grow older, I’ll think back to these days nostalgically and relive them by telling my grandchildren the tale.
Many people we know personally have lost their lives and many others were injured during this blessed revolution. The majority of these people were the youth of the city. Young men who met a rain of bullets, sniper and artillery fire head on – they were undeterred. Their stance would lead to the crumbling of the regime in the East of the country in just a matter of four days. Four days of killing in the face of iron will.
The protests started in the Tree Square in Omar ben al-Aus street and soon spread to other parts of the city as the authorities used excessive force and began shooting people in cold blood. Snipers started the shooting after a funeral procession was shot at while passing al-Fadeel Army Base (Gadhafi’s Residence). The enemy became the headquarters.
As more and more people were gunned down, more and more youth arrived from all the neighborhoods across Benghazi. They came armed with their brotherhood.
I remember creeping into the old Turkish Fort in front of the Base, armed with my camera using the walls as cover, I advanced further forward until I was behind an arch about 100 meters in front of the Base. Next thing I knew, machine gunfire broke out in loud bursts. It didn’t stop but just increased and got louder. I hid behind one of the columns of the arch. There were at least 30 of us hiding behind each column which were about two foot wide. I took out my camera and started snapping shots as the bullets got closer and closer.
One by one the young men ran back for cover. The lucky ones dodged the bullets and made it safely to the other side of the Fort; the less fortunate, however, fell to the ground in a pool of blood.
Gadhafi brigades and hired foreign mercenaries were shooting to kill as the majority of casualties were hit in the chest and head. The mercenaries danced cheerfully as they shot each victim which enraged the crowd even more. You’d think that the youth would be terrified but they weren’t – the more young men fell, the more young men came to take their place.
Friends and passersby picked up the injured and in some cases were targeted and shot as they tried to pick up their comrades. The soldiers would start shooting and advance forward into the streets following the youth who hid behind corners and taunted them. The neighborhoods on all sides of the Base were ripped with bullet holes and many residents were shot inside their own homes.
Things started to go the youths way when they started using Jalatina which is a homemade bomb used in fishery which they threw at the loyalist guards – you could tell that the soldiers were frightened by this new development.
The people were resolved to take over the Base and became innovative in their approach to fighting the trained well armed guards. Spear guns were brought in and Jalatina was tied on to the spear and sent flying into the main checkpoint of the Base.
The young men kept attacking and chanting – ‘The Base will fall today; the Base will fall today;…’. Bulldozers were also used to barge at the reinforced concrete walls on all sides of the Base to get the guards occupied on all fronts and also to allow the protestors to sneak into the compound.
Al- Mahdi Zeiw, a father of two girls, sacrificed his life by piling his car with gas cylinders and Jalatina and rammed the main gate of the Base causing a massive explosion and a huge hole at the gate.
That was the fighting spirit on the streets of Benghazi. ‘We win or we die’ was their motto just as Omar Al-Mukhtar had famously said during the many years he had struggled against the oppressive Italian occupation. The youth followed their hero’s words to the letter.
Omar Al-Mukhtar further advised the Libyans to seize the enemies weapons to use against them; just as their forefathers had done before them, the Libyans snatched the weapons off Gadhafi’s forces to arm and protect themselves with.
Things escalated even further as the guards began using artillery fire at the protestors. Now, however, the youth had access to small arms fire and a growing will to succeed.
Once our brothers in the other Eastern towns secured their borders, the youth of Al-Baida, Shahat, Sousa, Al-Ghuba, Derna, Tobruk and other villages in the region came to stand and support their brothers in Benghazi with their newfound arsenal.
On the same day that our brethren arrived from the East, the 36th Special Forces brigade based in Benghazi under the command of Four Star General AbdulFatah Younis revolted against Gadhafi and joined sides with the citizens of the East.
The Base finally fell. Gadhafi loyalists deserted the Base and ran off in civilian clothes, surrendered or were killed.
I remember an overwhelming feeling of joy as the crowd rushed through the gates in search of weapons to further advance towards Benina Airport. People wept openly as they entered the Base; one man got on his knees and prayed to God in gratitude.
We were victorious but not without a price; thousands of young people had been wounded many of them critically while hundreds of others had sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom.
Some of our young men who had been caught by Gadhafi’s loyalists were found; some were dangling by an arm from the ceiling, others had been raped, others were missing; even Gadhafi’s soldiers who refused the orders to shoot civilians weren’t spared as their bodies were found burned after they had been shot with a single bullet to the head.
Once the Base fell, the Libyans gathered what weapons they found and moved on to secure Benina airport. The airport fell to the hands of the people that same night and Eastern Libya had been freed from the sinister shackles of a merciless regime.
Gadhafi’s troops would try to re-enter Benghazi on the 19th of March but once again our brave youth stopped them in their tracks in Tabalino on the western road into Benghazi.
I grew up a lot during these times; the one thing I learned is to have respect for those unemployed young men who stand on street corners and watch life pass them by. It was those same kids and young men who faced the bullets and stood up as the bravest of men to rewrite the history of a nation.
We salute them and those that have passed away and promise never to forget their bravery and determination which should be an example for all Libyans of all ages as we all move forward to guide our country to peace and prosperity.
Many of these courageous young men are still fighting on the front lines today, others have joined in as volunteers providing an essential workforce to help the Cause in its many different requirements from humanitarian relief, rappers, cartoonists, local police to collecting garbage to keeping our streets clean and tidy.
We must also mention the role that our young women and mothers played during the uprising. They sent their boys and their men to war, sprayed cool water on the men from the balconies and you could hear their Zoughrouta –a high pitched shriek – reverberating above the skies of Benghazi as a sign of their happiness and content. They are also a major part of the many voluntary positions needed during the revolution.
It is our obligation to make sure that our young men and women are offered scholarships for a better education, vocational training in different fields from photography, media, art, music, carpentry, to engineering; they should also be trained in foreign languages to further develop the bridges already built with the international community and to allow them to attend conferences and workshops abroad. This will develop these young people intellectually, linguistically, socially, culturally, psychologically and in many other ways.
We thank the honorable men and women of the Interim National Council and other public servants for all their hard work so far in our blessed revolution.
Our government will have much to do in order to reconstruct our shattered country; one of their priorities should be the preparation of a thorough program to support and develop the youth movement as they are an important fountain of energy – utilizing this force will be the key to rebuilding the Nation.
We suggest that our representatives consider having a younger generation of Libyans working directly with them and in positions of responsibility so that their fresh ideas and creative abilities are a part of the system that will lead to a civil democratic society.
The vibrant force of youth directed in the right channel can become the flame of the torch of a new dynamic innovative Libya. God bless Libya and the Next Generation.
By Tawfik Mansurey
Tawfik Mansurey is founder of International House Benghazi, an authorized Cambridge ESOL Centre. He is also founder and chief editor of the Libya Post, a newspaper that was started at the beginning of the revolution. He witnessed firsthand the events that unfolded at the garrison of Benghazi, events that would lead to the revolution throughout Libya. Further, he has played a vital role within the Free Libyan Army as a translator and liason.