In light of the recent tragic events in Libya, I feel that it is time to speak out. For the past few days, I have been filled with profound grief about the death of the American diplomatic staff, and the Libyans who heroically defended them in my beloved Benghazi. Many of you have done your parts to assuage my grief by showing empathy and understanding in your hearts for the Libyan people. And I love you all for that.
Yet sadly, I have seen the flip side, the cynical need for some of you to characterize all Libyans, and the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, as the Other, the monsters and devils lying in wait, ready to tear down the gates of civilization. And to make matters worse, your voices, overflowing with ironclad certainty, utterly drown out the voices of reason and moderation. I spent nearly a year in Benghazi getting to know the true character of the people. And yet my experiences count for nothing to you. And so I write this, half-knowing that it will never reach your eyes. Yet still I write.
When the Libyan uprising first erupted in February of last year, I watched in amazement as an entire population attempted to liberate itself from the crushing yoke of a mercurial tyrant, a God King meant for another century. And when I read a small passage on CNN about an everyman filling his car with explosives and ramming the anti-aircraft gun outside of the great fortress that dominates Benghazi, that was it for me. I just had to be there. I needed to see this people’s revolution for myself. And no, not through the distorted media lens, but through my own eyes.
The decision made, I now had to deal with the lingering specter of terror. What the hell was I getting into? Thankfully I had a good friend already there, but as far as I was concerned, I was still leaping headlong into the void. I still recall so vividly the conversation with an expert on what to do if I was captured. And even more vividly, the discussion with my dad on the code we would use if I was indeed kidnapped. I remember finding it so unbelievably odd how we casually broke up the regions of Libya into the geographical locations of English football clubs in case I was thrust against my will in front of the camera. Driving up to the San Francisco International Airport in the false light before dawn, and blithely talking about the possibility of being imprisoned…or even worse.
Three weeks of frantic preparation passed, and I found myself looking toward the Egyptian checkpoint, patiently waiting for permission to cross the border, and into the midst of the revolution. Then suddenly…I was there. And what a strange sensation it was. So this is how it feels to be in a revolution? No anxiety. No terror. Just a feeling of ever-growing excitement.
As we toured the eastern city of Tobruk, we were greeted with scenes that would become all too familiar to me during the early days. Children sweeping the streets free of debris. Citizens policing the crumbling neighborhoods. And everyone wanting to shake my hand. Men invited me into their houses for lunch. Soldiers guarding forlorn checkpoints gave me tea. And every man, woman and child wanted to tell their story, the tragic price that they paid under the reign of “Brother Leader”.
The more time I spent in Libya, the more I found my own hope, long lost to cynicism and self-absorption, return – and return in waves. And no better reflection of this hope could I find than in the burgeoning music and art scene. After 42 years of boiling under the surface, creative expression burst forth with a ferocity that reduced the walls to rubble. People literally discovered their artistic talents overnight, and they wasted no time. The media center in downtown Benghazi was a veritable beehive of activity. Every room was filled with artists, newspaper editors, metal bands and hip hop groups, all of them determined to express themselves to the fullest. I was floored by this fast evolving Renaissance to such an extent that I decided to harness it into a rocking music festival in the heart of Benghazi.
As the war became mired in an unstable equilibrium, the enthusiasm of those early days would soon fade. But the feeling would return in spades when the God King finally fell from the sky. On that day, October 20th, a day I will likely never experience again, the celebrations were on a scale I cannot adequately describe. As one friend so eloquently put it, there was a complete and total absence of hatred in the entire city. All of our personal chains dissolved, and for that oh so brief moment, we were united in the fellowship of man.
Yet sadly, the feeling was all too fleeting, and Libya soon became mired in post-revolutionary blues. After months of planning, the festival was cancelled at the 11th hour. The music that was such a driving force during the revolution went silent, and the paint dried up. More and more problems came to the surface as stagnation set in. People became truly jaded, and the spirit of February 17th withered.
Yet to my amazement, I still felt safer within the dilapidated confines of Benghazi than in any American city. I could walk anywhere, and the people still wanted to shake my hand, to tell me thank you for documenting their struggles. No, not a trendy revolution thing, but the true untarnished character of the people. For you see it’s Benghazi, the city of the homeless, and she welcomes all with open arms. As my time in Libya came to a close, I felt a deep, profound love for her. She adopted me as one of her own, her native son returned. She fed me, housed me and graced me with the warm company of my long lost brothers and sisters: Hammuda, Dado, Bofa, Moftah, Don, Elli, John, Haitham, Abdallah, Mingo, Hussain, Marrwan, Tawfik, Hassam, Masoud, Aziz, Hakim, Saleh, Munder, Mansour, young Malek, Zakaria, several Ibrahims, several Ali’s, Rodaina, Huda, Noran, Fayrouz, Rounak, and the thousands who I have sadly failed to mention.
These, my experiences with each and every one of them, they define Benghazi. They define the spirit of Libya. Yes, I witnessed the desecration of the military cemeteries in Benghazi. Yes, I witnessed a gun battle between a militia and heavily armed thieves. Yes, I saw music festivals cancelled due to the heavy-handedness of some of the more extreme elements.
And yet I saw 100 men rush to the aid of woman who was being car-jacked. I saw 30 citizens rush to help at the scene of a car accident. I saw the utter grief etched on the faces of those gathered at the many funerals I attended. I saw the unfettered tears of Mahdi Zew’s daughters as they reflected on the loss of their beloved father.
I heard the pain in the voices of my friends when they talked about losing the best of them, their dear friend Rami El Kaleh. And I heard the beautiful song that so powerfully expressed their grief. I heard the hip hop artists echo the frustrations of the entire youth culture. I heard Masoud Buisir bring hope to the hearts of the freedom fighters through his rousing music, and his message of universal human rights.
And yet you see the black flags on Fox News. You hear the angry chants of football hooligans outside the US embassies. You see the few hundred wild-eyed extremists destroy monuments and murder the innocent. And you decide that they represent everyone in those parts. And so you call the people of the entire region backward…inhuman…savages. You call their set of beliefs cancerous, even though they share many more similarities than differences with yours. You think of yourselves as modern and enlightened, yet you use nearly the same language as the extremists, and worse, the still ringing voices of 12th century Crusaders.
But before you walk away in disgust, and tune into one of the many hate-mongers on talk radio, I ask you this. When a Libyan reads the newspaper, and sees a story about an unhinged man shooting up a movie theater, how do you think he views you? Does he decide that you’re just like him?
Over one year has passed since I first crossed the frontier into Libya, and what a long, strange trip it’s been. As I stared beyond the final border checkpoint into that empty landscape, before my eyes stretched the great unknown, a boundless abyss of uncertainty. What would become of me in this, the first war-ravaged country I had ever set foot in? Yet to my surprise, that dull sense of dread, such an ever-present specter since I first decided to go, suddenly disappeared, replaced instead with a growing feeling excitement. And so after many years of dull apathy, I felt a renewed sense of purpose.
Long before that border crossing, I fell deep into those dreary, dark doldrums that many filmmakers call home. Progress in the industry was inordinately, soul-sappingly slow. Time, however, wasn’t. And with each year gone, success seemed more and more distant, and less and less likely. Yet all this would change in just four days, those fateful four days in February of 2011. A passion long forgotten would suddenly be rekindled, ushering me across the Atlantic and to this sand-choked border hugging the heights above the Egyptian town of Salloum.
Not an hour from Egypt, we entered into Tobruk, site of the great World War II battle, and the first sizable city in the East of Libya. As we drove on those broken roads, we were greeted with a scene of quiet jubilation. The sense of citizenship coursing through the veins of the residents, newly freed from 42 years of Gaddafi, was like nothing I had ever witnessed. And as we worked our way toward Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising, that same scene played before us…over and over and over. For the whole of the East was polarized, working as one to rid hapless Libya of the systematic oppression that had plagued it for two generations.
As we arrived in Benghazi, midnight had come and gone, but people were out in full force clearing the wreckage from the streets. The following day, we saw 12-year old boys don police hats and direct traffic at the light-less intersections. Downtown, we raptly watched as musicians and artists converged on the once foreboding internal security headquarters, now the media center and the cultural Ground Zero of the revolution. In the blink of an eye, a music and art scene burst forth from under the surface, and enveloped free Libya. Heavy metal, country, blues, jazz and traditional all converged on the media center, and brought its burned out shell to life. And all amidst a backdrop of utter devastation. 42 years of neglect had left Benghazi a living ruin, a bleak setting for a post-apocalyptic film. Yet despite the decay, the city was full of such life, of renewal, of spring come again. I took all this in with amazement, and for the first time in I don’t remember when, I felt a faith in humanity, dormant somewhere deep inside me, reignited. And I felt that same renewal course through my veins.
The idea for a music festival first came to me while I was exploring the ruins of the ancient Greek city Cyrene. While I wandered through the decaying Necropolis that winds down the hill toward Soussa, the youth were out in full force and exercising their creativity out in the open, letting their voices be heard for the first time in their lives. I thought to myself that the world needed to see this, the true face of the revolution. Not al Qaeda. Not Western governments, but the thousands of forgotten, a lost generation rediscovering itself in the music…in the requiem for youth. The more I pondered, the greater the need, it seemed to me, to show to the rest of the world this true face of Libya that I was seeing. And in those quick moments, I transformed from a down-on-his luck filmmaker into a music festival producer.
After leaving Libya for a few months, I returned only to find a large number of people had already heard about the idea. As a friend later explained to me, news travels near the speed of light in the metropolitan village that is Benghazi, and one person stumbling across a Youtube video of some unknown American talking about some Libyan music festival soon turned into 50 ad hoc festival organizers. Before I even arrived, I had a crew. And when I once again planted my feet on Libyan soil, we were off to the races. Soon followed coffee with businessmen, meetings with ministers, and appointments with NGO’s. Interest grew and grew, just as opposing forces violently clashed in the last loyalist stronghold of Sirte. A month passed, and when Sirte finally fell on October 20th, we used the occasion as a platform to advertise about the festival. And, oh, how splendid things looked.
As time wore on, however, it became painfully clear that nothing was actually getting done, and nobody knew what they were doing. The honeymoon was over, and my once robust crew attenuated down to three: me and two others. The enthusiastic voices of support in the National Transitional Council (NTC) had long grown silent, and the various NGO’s never bothered to follow up, let alone return our calls. To make matters worse, the idea was hijacked by at least four different groups, and what once seemed to be a concerted effort of the citizens of Benghazi became a desperate race between rival factions to hold the first festival. The NTC invited Yousif Islam for a festival at our original location. A local television channel began poaching from our lineup for theirs. And whispers of various other music events kept on surfacing throughout the month of January. It seemed the very spirit of the festival, the very spirit of the music, had been tainted. All the enthusiasm, all that newfound hope welling inside of me, was gone, slowly eaten away by the months of collective apathy after the fall of Sirte. Yet somehow, through all of these pitfalls, we remaining, we few persevered. And it appeared our perseverance would be rewarded. One day before the festival, we found ourselves the last ones standing, with a fantastic location secured, and 25 local bands ready to shake the very foundations of Benghazi. As we held the final briefing of the bands, I looked on in sheer amazement. We did it. After all this…we, we really pulled it off.
Sadly, however, the legs that supported us, and seemed to hold up while others fell, were nothing but an illusion, a cruel mirage in the heat of the desert sun. For at the 11th hour, the burgeoning politics of Benghazi laid to waste all our plans…and just like that, we were forced to cancel the festival. The music, the voices, went silent once again.
The aftermath was a particularly difficult time, for the shades of failures past continually haunted me. The hope I had so happily embraced turned to dust in my hands. I hated Benghazi, hated it with a passion, and it appeared that Benghazi began to hate herself. Disappointment and resentment ruled the day as Libya became mired in post-revolutionary stagnation. Once again, corruption was blatantly out in the open, and people felt that nothing had really changed, save for their ability to complain and criticize. Somehow the city reflected how I felt inside, and I wanted nothing more than to go home, to leave this dirty living ruin, lost within the echoes of the 20th century. Yet something inside refused to let me leave. Something I had yet to discover. Some burning question left unanswered.
One beautiful spring day, as I was walking by the lighthouse, the sun peaked through the clouds, and hit the ruined buildings in a peculiar way. And for the first time since I arrived, I saw it. I saw Benghazi. Not the ruined city of trash and rubble that I had come to know, but a hidden gem amidst the dust, a gem with many facets. To truly see Benghazi, to truly understand this unique city of contradictions, one must take them all in at once. All facets. This was a city with virtually no infrastructure. Crumbling hospitals. Decaying roads. And no law and order. Yet despite these civilization-smashing problems, Benghazi not only functioned, but functioned peacefully. In the midst of it all, here I was, a blonde sore thumb with a pony-tail, moaning about the festival and generally feeling sorry for myself. Yet I never felt any real danger, even in a city where most of the population possess small arms, with the police being nothing more than paper tigers. In spite of this, however, I walked virtually everywhere without being bothered (apart from crazy drivers and roving packs of vicious dogs). No, no. This was not Mogadishu. In fact, this was not even San Francisco.
As the rays of the sun illuminated this ancient city on the Bay of Misrata, I at last saw through the veil of my own darkness and gazed upon the true face, the true character, of Benghazi. Unconditional love for this city, my city welled up within, for she embraced me and took me as one of her own. And for the first time, I felt peace.
This story, my story, is not about a festival, nor is it about a nation burning in the flames of revolution. No, this is a story about how the city of Benghazi and I came to love each other, despite our many disagreements, and despite the great cultural chasm that lies between us. In the beginning, I came to her engulfed within the darkness of my soul, among the shadows of failures past. Yet in the end, she would come to love me as I love her, and lead me out of the darkness. As I left her behind in the sands of the Great Desert, I finally heard her song. And what a beautiful song it was.
Yesterday started like any other day in Benghazi. The rumor mill was turning at pace. Sirte was on the verge of falling. The NTC was about to declare an end to hostilities. For days and days, however, we had heard the same, so most of us didn’t expect October 20th to unfold the way it did.
The morning was spent trying to arrange screenings of my film to various English-speaking schools in town. While at the European School, my friend Dado received a call from another friend. Halas. Sirte, the last bastion of Gaddafi, had fallen. Once again, I was a bit skeptical, because I had heard the same before. I went to speak to the Headmaster and didn’t think any more of it.
After the interview, Dado and I headed to the Libya Alhurra tv station to collect footage for the music festival. Something definitely was amiss. Horns honking and Kalashnikov fire at a greater frequency. And even the distant boom of gelatina. Hmm. Perhaps.
We pulled into the station, and joined a crowd gathered by a tv. Sirte has fallen, and some big names have been captured. Yet what of Gaddafi? We waited. Nothing. An interminable period of time passed…and then the cheers erupted. Local news claimed Gaddafi was captured, but once again I was skeptical. After all, Motassim was “captured” 10 days ago. And Saif was “detained” after the fall of Tripoli.
But then the pictures filtered through. Images of what appeared to be a lifeless Gaddafi. And soon Al Jazeera confirmed that it was indeed true. After 42 years of iron fisted rule, the self-styled god king was dead. A man who hovered over his people ominously, even within their dreams, reduced to pleading for his life in a sewage pipe. From whence he came, as some would argue.
We rushed out of the station and headed straight for the courthouse, Dado blasting Dire Straits the whole way. The road was packed. Horns honking. People chanting. Guns firing. There was a palpable energy in the air, one that I had not felt since I was here in April and May. The courthouse area was beginning to fill with people…and the noise was deafening. Walking through the crowd, it was easy to be swept away in the euphoria. For even though the war had been winding down over the last couple of months, the death toll in Sirte was rising steadily, and the specter of Gaddafi still hovered over their lives. Yet now it was over. The head separated from the shaven body.
We spent rest of the afternoon at the courthouse interviewing people, and enjoying the jubilant scenes before taking a siesta. When we returned in the evening, the downtown was absolutely packed. Gridlock everywhere, but nobody cared. We walked by a car accident, but those involved were too excited to pay much notice. Benghazinos and Benghazinas were out in full force, and enjoying a night that they will remember for the rest of their lives. VL Day.
As I walked through the downtown area, I wondered what it would be like in six months. Would the vacuum left by Gaddafi lead to a mass scramble for power? Would one tyrant be replaced by another? Or would Libya become a beacon of light to the rest of the world? Many questions are left unanswered. Yet I can still hear the faint voices of the wives and mothers of the Abu Salim victims on that fateful night in February. “Wake up, Benghazi. Wake up, Benghazi.” On this day, the 20th of October, 2011, I can assure you that Benghazi, and the whole of Libya, has its eyes wide open.
A young man named Ahmed returns to Libya after studying economics in the United States. But he’s not here to start a new life in the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Instead, he waits patiently in his hometown of Benghazi. And when the orders come from his contact, he is prepared to move quickly.
Hiwaz was probably somewhere in Tunisia at this point. Through many Libyan nodes, Hiwaz, a remnant of the old military guard before Gaddafi, had recruited them in the States and in Europe. He ushered them to Morocco where they trained for months…unseen, unheard. Slowly, the man began filtering through the Libyan border, and taking positions within the populace. Now they wait…
Weeks pass. His contact is silent, and the abyss of the unknown stretches out in front of him. Until one day Ahmed finally gets word…but too late. Hiwaz is dead, his plans lay in ruins. And the roundup begins. He is unsurprised when they finally show up at his door. He is trussed up and sent off to Tripoli, to the dreaded Abu Salim Prison where he is processed. He waits in the corridor, standing and handcuffed with a bowl of some unidentifiable substance posing as food poised at his feet. He is starving, but he will not eat like a dog.
Days pass, and the guards find him slumped on the floor, bowl untouched. Processing complete, they move him to a cell, where he is soon joined by 14 other doomed souls. News starts to filter in about what happened. Hiwaz and his co-conspirators, attempting to infiltrate through the Tunisian border, were killed in a firefight against the vigilant Gaddafi apparatus. The leader of the Great Socialist People’s Jamahiriya is invincible.
But news of what really happened begins to filter through. As a young man named Zakaria is arrested for the sole crime of sharing the uncommon name with one of the conspirators, another man is ushered into Abu Salim. Word travels from cell to cell in a wave of information. He was with Hiwaz, they whisper.
Weeks sail by, and Ahmed loses precious weight. Deciding that he will observe the month of Ramadan indefinitely, he saves his food for the setting of the sun. The cell network filters in more news. Hiwaz and his cohorts made it through the border. There was a gunfight near Bani Walid. Some were killed. Some were captured.
Next to hapless Zakaria’s cell in an adjacent block, a man who was with Hiwaz is shepherded out of his cell one day, and never seen again. The guards soon tell Ahmed that he and others were hanged publicly back in Benghazi, a serious lesson that the Gaddafi apparatus is well-oiled, and poised for retribution. Suspecting all along that he would be hanged for his part in the conspiracy, Ahmed waits. But they never come.
As the distinguishing lines between the days melt away, the lines of hunger on Ahmed’s shattered body become more pronounced. He feels spears of madness probing his brain, but he resists. He repeats nursery rhymes he learned in the States over and over. When that fails to keep away the darkness, he remembers as many verses from the Qu’ran as he can, and repeats them deep into the stygian nights. They were stopped. They showed them their papers but were brought into the station anyway. Hiwaz was taken in alone to interview about his papers. He carried a gun.
To be continued…
On August 10th, 2011, filmmaker Matthew Millan will give a talk about his travels through war-torn Libya, and the extraordinary events he witnessed while there.
From the eastern city of Tobruk to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Mr. Millan journeyed into the heart of a nebula coalescing from the dust of war…and into a nation reborn. Amidst the brutality and devastation wrought under 42 years of Gaddafi’s rule, a civil society par excellence is emerging from the ashes. And for the first time in their lives, the eastern Libyans feel a strong sense of citizenship, finding themselves gravitating toward certain roles, roles they would never consider five months before. Medical students turned news anchors. Civil engineers turned newspaper editors. And taxi drivers turned soldiers. Neighborhoods have banded together to pick up the pieces of a shattered infrastructure. Children sweep the streets after the witching hour, alongside men who paint the roadside curbs. Looting is non-existent, and the crime rate has dropped by a factor of 20… and this in the absence of strong government.
To begin the talk, Mr. Millan will first walk you through the emerging nation in the midst the war, and the devastation of the Libyan infrastructure before showing the premiere of ‘We Win or We Die’, a 30 minute documentary on the first 4 days of the uprising. At the end of the talk, he will also show teasers to his upcoming feature length film, entitled ‘West of Tobruk’, which due out in 2012. Join Mr. Millan on August 10th at the Venice Arts Gallery, and see the emerging face of Libya.
Reserve a seat now at
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.