Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

No strategy and a beige suit

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014

Read more

ENCORE!

Alain Choquette: A Hilarious Magician in Paris

Read more

FOCUS

France welcomes Iraqi Christian refugees

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Emmanuel Macron: A new economy minister with a pro-business agenda

Read more

THE OBSERVERS

More of this year's best Observers stories

Read more

#TECH 24

Changing the world, one video game at a time

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Socialist Party summer conference kicks off in explosive atmosphere

Read more

  • Exclusive: Fabius warns of further sanctions against Russia

    Read more

  • Experimental Ebola drug ‘ZMapp’ heals all monkeys in study

    Read more

  • IMF stands behind Lagarde amid French corruption probe

    Read more

  • Ukraine to relaunch NATO membership bid

    Read more

  • Suriname leader’s son pleads guilty to courting Hezbollah

    Read more

  • British killer escapes from French psychiatric hospital

    Read more

  • Chelsea’s Torres set for AC Milan switch

    Read more

  • Police hunt for British boy with brain tumour taken to France

    Read more

  • France shines in IMF list of world’s promising economists

    Read more

  • Mapping Ukraine: Canada and Russia in ‘tweet for tat’ row

    Read more

  • First case of Ebola confirmed in Senegal

    Read more

  • Obama has 'no strategy yet' on potential Syria strikes

    Read more

  • Netflix to woo French with ‘House of Cards’ set in Marseille

    Read more

  • French businesses ‘hoping for a new Thatcher’

    Read more

  • Syrian refugees surpass 3 million, UN says

    Read more

  • West backs Ukrainian claims of Russian incursion

    Read more

  • Libyan PM resigns as Islamists set up rival administration

    Read more

  • UN says 43 peacekeepers captured in Golan Heights

    Read more

  • The deleted tweets of Manuel Valls

    Read more

  • Peru seizes record 6.5 tonnes of Europe-bound cocaine

    Read more

Africa

As first election looms, Libyans count blessings

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2012-07-04

As the country heads for its first free elections after the rise and fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is once more in the news - and it’s not good news. Yet behind the scenes, countless lives have changed - mostly for the better.

Before the uprising against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi broke out in eastern Libya and engulfed the country, Wafa al-Maki al-Mushri was, as she put it, “just sitting at home.”

The vivacious 28-year-old Tripoli native had finished her studies and earned a bachelor’s degree. But when she couldn’t find a job, al-Mushri joined the ranks of Libya’s unemployed, who constitute a whopping 30 percent of the oil-rich country’s 6 million-strong population.

It has been a momentous 15 months since an uprising erupted against the former dictator, Gaddafi. And not just for the country and the region, but also for millions of ordinary Libyans like al-Mushri, many of whom have spent the better part of their lives under international isolation and UN sanctions brought on by one man’s disastrous machinations on the world stage.

Today, al-Mushri is a government employee -- an extraordinary feat, as she is at pains to note.

“Can you imagine I work for the government?” she asks incredulously, tucking an errant fold of her veil. “Before the revolution, you could only work for the government if you knew the chairman, or your uncle or relative knew an important person. You couldn’t just get a job by giving your CV, even if you were qualified.”

Wafa al-Maki al-Mushri (right) works in the public relations department of the Libyan High National Election Commission (HNEC).

These days al-Mushri works in the public relations department of the Libyan High National Election Commission (HNEC), the body charged with conducting the July 7 constituent assembly elections.

Her job involves, among other things, explaining the baffling business of democracy to a population that has not experienced an election -- not even a sham one -- in almost half a century.

‘I smell the freedom’

Before the revolution, al-Mushri notes, she would never, not in her wildest dreams, have imagined she would be interacting with foreign journalists, who troop in by the dozens at the HNEC public relations office these days. “I would have run away. I would have run far away,” she laughs.

Yet, here she is, smiling behind her bright red laptop, expounding on her views on democracy, the security situation in Libya and her hopes for her country’s future.

“You know what, when I wake up in the morning and I go to work, I smell the freedom,” she says earnestly.

Nine months after Gaddafi was captured and killed, the headlines from Libya have been alarming: militias refusing to lay down their arms, fighting in some parts -- where longstanding regional, ethnic and economic disputes have erupted -- as well as attacks on polling stations.

But largely unseen and unheard of in the international press are the accounts of ordinary lives -- thousands, perhaps millions of them -- that have unimaginably, irreversibly improved.

Respect for a once-reviled police force

Osama al-Hadi exchanged his police uniform for civilian clothes during the 2011 uprising.

Osama al-Hadi is just one of them. A garrulous 24-year-old native of the mountainous western Jabal al-Gharbi district, al-Hadi joined the police force in 2009.

Under Gaddafi, al-Hadi served in the Libyan-Chadian border zone, a dangerous hotspot for smugglers and traffickers.

Today, he’s part of the newly-minted police force under the interim Interior Ministry -- and nothing seems the same.

“I’m more happy, much more happy now,” says al-Hadi. “We’re better paid, we get allowances, like a hardship allowance for dangerous postings, and, above all, we get more respect,” he says. “Before, the people hated us. They were afraid of us and we knew it. They wouldn’t talk to us. Now people stop and talk to us.”

Switching uniform for civvies

Under Gaddafi, al-Hadi may have been just another policeman, tackling crime and not the nasty business of dealing with political dissidents, as Gaddafi’s controversial Internal Security Agency did.

But in a police state, his comrades had a horrendous track record, with
Amnesty International implicating the service in a range of human rights violations, including a 2006 incident when officers opened fire on demonstrators in Benghazi, killing 12.

Not that the ever-suspicious Gaddafi cared much for his police force, according to al-Hadi.

“When the revolution happened, Gaddafi took all our weapons -- we were unarmed because he didn’t trust us,” he explains.

In late February 2011, shortly after the uprising broke out in the eastern city of Benghazi, al-Hadi says his unit, armed with just riot helmets and batons, was dispatched to the western city of Zawiya to tackle an anti-Gaddafi demonstration.

“When we arrived in Zawiya, we found the revolutionaries armed with weapons, and we fled,” explains al-Hadi. “I took off my uniform, wore civilian clothes and returned to my village in Jabal al-Gharbi.”

Al-Hadi waited out the uprising in his remote mountain village until Tripoli fell from Gaddafi’s control in August 2011. He then made his way to the Libyan capital and offered his services.

Today, he’s posted at a Tripoli police station -- a very different job from the one he had near the Chadian border.

But he insists that it’s not the geography that has improved his life. “Right now, I’m in Tripoli,” he says. “If they ask me to go back to the border, I will go. It’s not a problem. I am in the police and I will serve my country, wherever they want me to. I want to serve my people.”

 

Date created : 2012-07-04

  • LIBYA

    It’s political party time in Libya: the key players

    Read more

  • LIBYA

    Can Libya's NTC avoid a victor's tyranny?

    Read more

  • LIBYA

    Gaddafi son Saif al-Islam attacked in detention

    Read more

COMMENT(S)