[Marxism] Libya

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 15 12:02:14 MDT 2016

One of the things I have been learning is how useless the bourgeois 
press is in getting to the bottom of Libyan realities. There is also a 
dearth of scholarly material as a search of JSTOR has revealed. The book 
I referred to the other day is superlative but it is the *only* one that 
has been published to date.

But there seems to be an alternative. Unsurprisingly it is an 
English-language blog written by a Benghazi resident titled "Brave New 
Libya". Here is his (or her) latest post "76 Hours in Tripoli" from 
August 15th that will give you an idea of the sort of thing found there. 
I will be check the blog roll to see if there are other English-language 
blog resources.


For all my aggressively pro-Benghazi sentiment, there’s a special place 
in my heart for Libya’s capital city. Large, loud, bustling, with 
excellent coffee that almost makes up for the traffic congestion, the 
indifferent enormity and beauty of Tripoli is like a haughty love 
interest. I enjoy glimpsing a shadow of Benghazi in the Italian facades 
of downtown Tripoli, or the pedestrians walking down the seaside. But 
the accent of the passersby shatters that illusion; hearing ‘halba‘ 
instead of ‘wajed‘, or seeing the black shenna atop the heads of old men 
on street corners, instead of the distinct crimson of the East, reminds 
me of where I actually am.

No Libyan will admit this, in our long-standing tradition of 
stubbornness, but we love visiting other regions and cities. It’s that 
feeling of being not-quite-away from home, but far enough that you 
notice the small differences, which I think we find endearing. My Libya 
travels have been contained to the East, which makes the rare trips to 
the capital all the more exciting. West Libya is an entirely foreign 
place to me, while the South is still more of a mystery. (I’ve still 
unsuccessfully been able to visit Fezzan, but it hasn’t stopped me from 
continuing to try)

This trip was marred by the Libyan conflict, as everything is nowadays. 
“Are you sure it’s safe to go?” “I heard they kidnap Shergawis.” 
“Tripoli is not what it used to be, don’t be surprised when you arrive.”

The airport was bigger than I expected, and knowing that there wasn’t a 
three-hour car ride ahead of me (a la Labrag) was enough to keep me in 
high spirits. Driving around the city, I picked up on the familiar 
patches of the skyline, re-learning the architecture. There were more 
bullet holes in Tripoli then when I last arrived over two years ago, and 
the people a bit more forlorn. But there was also a lot of life, a 
persistent need to keep going, an unwillingness to succumb to the 
situation. The ugly rumors online about how terrifying Tripoli had 
become are as unfounded as the reports of Benghazi’s complete 
destruction. But people persist in these rumors, because we have 
developed a hideous sense of victory when we hear of a rival city’s 
demise, as though this failure justifies our petty political beliefs.

“There’s Bou Sita, if you look hard you can see the boat that Sarraj 
sailed in on.” It’s a new joke, but there’s nothing funny about the very 
serious armoured cars guarding the naval base. Around the city, you can 
spot stenciled graffiti in support of the GNA, but it’s not convincing. 
Real graffiti is not that meticulous, not that earnest in its message. 
These suspicions were confirmed by people I spoke with. “We had hope in 
them at first, but not anymore. What have they achieved?”

It was hard to get used to hearing from people in Tripoli that some of 
the militias are keeping the peace. Militias are all bad, aren’t they? 
We uncompromisingly rejected them in Benghazi,  a decision whose 
consequences we’re still facing. But it’s all for the ultimate greater 
good. Isn’t it? But Tripoli isn’t Benghazi, and their situation is not 
our situation. In Benghazi we don’t have tens of thousands of IDPs from 
other cities all seeking refuge, we don’t have the debilitating 
political expectations from unseen outside forces. When situations go to 
their extreme, we lean on one another. But in Tripoli, it’s every man 
for himself. Which is why I have to accept that, whatever my feelings 
are, my opinions are irrelevant to this city. اهل مكة ادرى بشعابها, as 
they say.

Another thing about Tripoli that is both endearing and embarrassing is 
that I’ve never spent a dinar there. I go from friend to friend, being 
hosted in that famed Libyan hospitality, and fights over the bill always 
end up with me losing to the argument of “You’re our guest!” Even when 
buying fruit at a kiosk, the vendor dismissed me with a wave of his hand 
as I try to pay, saying “Next time,  المرة الجاية.” I unconvincingly 
tell friends, “I’ll be hosting you when you visit me in Benghazi soon,” 
both of us knowing that they won’t be visiting Benghazi soon, that I 
don’t even want them to see Benghazi when it’s like this, with its 
rubble and its anger.

You don’t have to go far to find Benghazi anger though. Tripoli hosts 
thousands of Benghazi families who have fled the East, some unable to 
return because their neighbourhood still isn’t under LNA control, and 
some because it is. For the latter, it’s a self-imposed exile, a 
decision that hasn’t been taken without some measure of bitterness. I’m 
acutely aware that being able to travel freely between cities and 
regions in Libya has become something of a luxury.

In the morning of my departure, I bought an early-morning cup of coffee 
from a nearby kiosk. In Benghazi, as a woman, I could never stand in a 
line with a group of sleepy-eyed Libyan men at a coffee kiosk. But my 
visitor status to the city affords me this brazen opportunity. I walk 
around for a bit taking in the morning air, forgetting for a brief 
moment the war, the hatred, the divided country, and enjoyed being a 
regular citizen visiting the capital city of her country.

Tripoli is also where I first met Tawfik Bensaoud, during that last trip 
two years ago, ironic considering that we’re both from Benghazi. We had 
our first real conversation waiting at the airport gate for our flight 
back. I don’t remember what we talked about, probably politics or civil 
society, but I remember being content. Tawfik is gone, and the airport 
is gone, but Tripoli is still here, Benghazi is still here. We can only 
go forward now.

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