“Gaddafi is our shame”

Evocative piece by the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson from inside Libya in the liberated city of Benghazi:

Libya’s notional freedom seemed like a mirage until we had driven another six hours through a land almost bereft of people, a landscape alternating between desert and a rolling, fertile greensward of farms, and arrived in the old Phoenician city of Benghazi, with its neglected colonial-era Italianate buildings. It was here, last week, in a beat-up courthouse on the seaside corniche, that a revolution took place and, after several days of violent confrontation, placed “the people” in charge of eastern Libya.

Two hours after arriving, I was in the courthouse, which is now the headquarters of revolutionary Benghazi, with a crowd of hundreds of people milling around outside. Three effigies of Qaddafi hung from a flagpole, and the thundering sea surged on the other side of the street. The crowd began chanting—great rhythmic resounding chants that sounded like music. I stood in an upstairs room, looking down at the scene with one of the city’s new volunteer leaders, Iman Bugaighis, a woman in her forties, who is a member of the dental faculty at the local university. I asked her what the people were chanting. As she told me, she was overcome with sudden and unexpected emotion, and started to cry: they were willing death on Qaddafi, she said. Then, unable to easily translate the play of words among the women and the men gathered below, who stood in separate groups, trading lines back and forth, in a resonant call and response, she said: “What they are trying to say is everything that they could not say for forty-two years. What they are saying is that they are no longer prepared to live in shame.” “What is shame to them?” I asked her. “Qaddafi,” she said. “He is our shame.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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