Libya uprising: Journey through land where chaos rules (YNetNews.Com -Yedioth Internet) Ron Ben-Yishai Published: 03.11.11, 12:05)
YNet News - Yediot Achronot
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Ynet, Yedioth Ahronoth reporter risks his life to bring images and
voices from bloody streets of Tripoli, including close encounter with
Gaddafi at hotel. Deputy FM Kaim: He can´t resign because is not a
president or secretary general. He is the leader
TRIPOLI - A cloud of yellow dust descended on Tripoli Wednesday.
Sandstorms are commonplace here, and this desert city lives within
them. Giant posters of Muammar Gaddafi can be seen everywhere. He is
worshipped here. On the way to the airport I stop at the Abu Salim
neighborhood with a number of other reporters. I take out my camera,
and moments later I find myself surrounded by dozens of men, women
and children waving pictures of Gaddafi and chanting slogans in his
"Only God, Muammar and Libya" – this is the slogan repeated by
Gaddafi´s supporters in Tripoli, similar to the famous Nazi
slogan "One people, one empire, one guide." This is the essence of
the fascist ideology in its Arab version. The crowd closes in on us,
but we manage to escape into a minibus that takes us to the terminal.
During his 41 years in power, Gaddafi built an entire nation in his
own image. For his followers, violence – from pushing and yelling to
opening fire – is a way of life. He control´s the country with a
unique blend of brain-washing, a cult of personality and fascism. His
supporters don’t admire his ideology, they admire him.
Well aware of his almost mystic control over the public, in recent
days Gaddafi has made it a point to make as many personal appearances
as possible. The embattled Libyan leader controls Tripoli and the
surrounding cities because he and his security forces are physically
present here, as opposed to more distant cities such as Benghazi in
the east. His security forces are everywhere – in every street
My journey to Libya began in Malta 10 days ago. I tried to board one
of the ferries sent to rescue foreign workers from Libya, but my
request was denied. "Gaddafi´s men will send us all back if you won’t
present official authorization from the embassy," one of the
organizers told me. But as I arrived at the Libyan embassy in the
capital Valletta, the Libyan ambassador announced he and the rest of
the embassy´s staffers support the uprising, waved the flag of the
monarchy that was toppled by Gaddafi´s military coup in 1969 and
walked back into the building.
Colleagues told me that the Libyan embassy in London was still loyal
to Gaddafi and that I had a good chance of obtaining a visa there.
Shortly after I arrived in London, Gaddafi´s son, Saif al-Islam, said
any journalist who wishes to assess the situation in Libya first hand
was welcome to do so.
"Go to the airport," the Libyan attaché told me (naturally, I did not
disclose the fact that I was Israeli), "The Libyan airlines will fly
you in without a visa." He was right. On Friday evening, in the midst
of another sandstorm, I landed in Tripoli. As I entered without a
visa, I was forced to wait a few nerve-wracking hours before an
official from the "authority in charge of foreign media" informed me
that my entry has been approved. A few hours later a driver came to
pick me up from the airport.
The stench outside the terminal was overwhelming, and the site was
even more difficult to bear: Thousands of people were sitting in the
dark, watching over their belongings, as the sandstorm raged. Migrant
workers from Egypt, Ghana, Bangladesh, Turkey and several other
countries were waiting helplessly for a plane which may or may not
take them back to their homelands.
I was greeted warmly by the receptionist at the Rixos Hotel in
central Tripoli, but the following day learned that any attempt to
reach sensitive areas would not be tolerated. Police officers,
soldiers or plain-clothes security personnel took me back to the
center – sometimes with the use of violence.
At night I heard gunfire. The day I landed was a particularly
difficult one in Tripoli. Riots erupted after Friday prayers, and in
the Tajoura and Suq al Jum´ah neighborhoods Gaddafi´s forces
dispersed the demonstrations with tear gas and live fire from
helicopters – which was used to deter the protestors and did not
target them directly. At the same time, security forces took photos
of the demonstrators. Now, at nighttime, they are arresting the
people who appear in the photos.
People I met in Tripoli told me that some of those who are arrested
by Gaddafi´s men simply disappear. This happens at nighttime, far
from the journalists´ eyes. This is also the reason for the sporadic
gunfire. The city is filled with roadblocks manned by the soldiers
and members of Gaddafi´s civilian militias – clutching their
Kalashnikovs at all times.
I decide to head out to the Tajoura along with another reporter and
an interpreter. Surprisingly, we receive authorization. The lines
outside the bakeries are long. There is a bread shortage. People are
also crowded outside a cooking gas sales center. Ali Ibrahim, 45,
drags an empty gas canister while apprehensively looking at a group
of men in civilian clothes standing nearby. He refuses to answer my
questions. This is how I learned that Gaddafi´s men were scattered
everywhere. Their weapons are concealed, but they can be recognized
by the Afro hairdo and Gaddafi-style sunglasses.
Ibrahim finally agrees to speak with me. "I hope things go back to
the way they were," he says. "I want stability. I have a wife and
Muhammad Qalil, a geography teacher who is standing in line behind
Ibrahim, cautiously describes the fighting from the previous
day. "Security forces fired tear gas at a number of youngsters who
threw Molotov cocktails"
I heard you were bombed form the air.
"No," he answers, but the scorched tires scattered on the streets are
a testament to what really happened.
Were you on the street yesterday during the protests?
"Yes, because I want change; but I went home as soon as the violence
What kind of change are you looking for?
I want the same thing the leader wants. Gaddafi and the nation want
civil rights, freedom of speech and other things people in other
countries have. We deserve the same things. The leader promised us
yesterday we would be granted more rights, as well as housing and
jobs for the young people."
Do you believe him?
Qalil smiles and quietly says, "Eighty percent."
On the way back to the hotel we pass by the Bab al-Aziza barracks,
where Gaddafi and his family reside. The camp is surrounded by a
green wall, and soldiers in full army gear guard the entrance. When I
try to take a picture, the driver turns and grabs my hand. "They´ll
shoot us without hesitating," he says.
Back at the hotel, Gaddafi´s representatives tell us the uprising in
Zawiyah has ended. We ask to visit this strategic oil town, where
battles have been raging for four consecutive days. Those who managed
to enter the city reported of dozens of casualties and packed
hospitals, but an army checkpoint located 15 kilometers (9.3 miles)
outside the city blocks our path and forces us to Tripoli.
At 3:30 pm, without prior notice, the hotel employees roll out a red
carpet and fervently clean up the courtyard. An hour later we were
told that Gaddafi would be arriving at the hotel to grant interviews
to French and Turkish television stations.
The Libyan leader arrived shortly before midnight, swathed in a brown
robe and turban, accompanied by a female bodyguard, his personal
driver and an outer circle of several security officers that surround
the area. The hotel workers cry out "Muammar! You are our father! Our
brother! Gaddafi, clenching his fists in the air, smiles and enters
Security personnel pushed the reporters away from the leader. Some
journalists were beaten.
I was snuck into the room where Gaddafi was giving the interviews. He
was sitting down, appearing to be at ease – a small man in a long
dress who rules an entire nation with madness.
Samih Hassan, one of Gaddafi´s bodyguards, remained outside to watch
over the leader´s white BMW. "How much do you earn?" I ask
him. "Nothing. I volunteer to protect Gaddafi," he replies.
I ask Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim if there is a chance
Gaddafi will resign. "Are you crazy? He can’t resign because he has
no official position," he says. "He is not a president or secretary
general. He is the leader." (Copyright 2011 © Yedioth Internet
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