Libyan Blogger Tells the Truth About Life and Death in Tripoli, the “City of Ghosts”


The news — mostly bad, occasionally uplifting — is so relentless on so many fronts at present that I missed this extraordinary article on the Guardian‘s Comment is free on Tuesday by a Libyan blogger, writing under the pseudonym Muhammad min Libya, who not only urged foreign forces not to intervene in Libya’s revolution, with a compelling explanation that doing so would only alienate the Libyan people, but also painted a bleak but compelling portrait of life in Tripoli as Gaddafi loses his grip on power — a tale of a city reduced to minimal operations (the “City of Ghosts” mentioned in the title), and of random deaths, at the hands of the regime, occurring with shocking regularity.

I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

Libya is united in popular revolution — please don’t intervene
By Muhammad min Libya, The Guardian, March 1, 2011

“Kiss my mum goodbye for me, and tell her that her son died a hero,” said my friend Ahmed, 26, to the first person who rushed to his side after he was shot in a Tripoli street.

Two days later, my friend Ahmed died in the hospital. Just like that.

That tall, handsome, funny, witty, intellectual young man is no more. No longer will he answer my phone calls. Time will stand still on his Facebook account for ever.

An hour before he was shot, I called Ahmed. He sounded at his best. He told me that he was in Green Square in the heart of Tripoli, and that we were free. Then bad telephone connections meant I couldn’t reach him again for two whole days.

That was when I called Ahmed’s best friend, who broke the devastating news to me. They were about to bury him, he told me. I rushed to the cemetery, and arrived there right after the burial. I found some of our friends. They pointed at a spot on the ground telling me it was where Ahmed’s body lay. We all hugged each other and just cried our hearts out.

This is the kind of story you get out of Tripoli these days. Hundreds of them, perhaps even thousands. The kind of stories that you could never imagine on your doorstep.

Like when you hear a six-month-old baby has been murdered, you just hope with all your heart that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s claims turn out to be true that there’s precious little violence here, that al-Jazeera fabricated the story. You hope that infant is right now sleeping peacefully in his mother’s arms. Like when you hear of someone from Tajura who had a bullet in his head for two days before dying, leaving behind a bereaved wife and child. You have been praying to God that this father be there playing with his child. But the photos, the video show you the cold truth. The wails that need no translation: loved ones being snatched away by death. All humans understand that scream.

This has been the life of Tripoli for quite some time. This is why the city is now called the “City of Ghosts” by its inhabitants, who have despaired at seeing protesters flee the teargas. The city has ground to a halt, with the vast majority of shops closed and schools and universities shut down. Only a few shops selling basic supplies remain open, and even that only for a few hours each day.

But despite this bleak picture of Tripoli, people have high hopes and faith that we are now witnessing the last moments of Gaddafi’s regime. This man no longer rules Libya; he is merely a man with a gun turned to the people.

His two speeches, and his son’s before that, were nothing but threats — they all backfired in favour of the Libyan revolution. Libyan tribes from the east to the west went out to assert national unity.

Abroad his record is no better. Gaddafi wanted to scare the western world off with the alleged threat of an Islamic emirate. The international community answered him by barring him from exile abroad, freezing his assets and referring his regime’s crimes to the international court of justice with almost unprecedented international unanimity.

All Libyans, even the pro-Gaddafi minority, believe that it’s only a matter of time before Libya regains its freedom. But the frightening question remains: how many martyrs will fall before Gaddafi does? How many souls will he take before the curse is broken?

This happy ending, however, is marred by a fear shared by all Libyans; that of a possible western military intervention to end the crisis.

Don’t get me wrong. I, like most Libyans, believe that imposing a no-fly zone would be a good way to deal the regime a hard blow on many levels; it would cut the route of the mercenary convoys summoned from Africa, it would prevent Gaddafi from smuggling money and other assets, and most importantly it would stop the regime from bombing weapons arsenals that many eyewitnesses have maintained contain chemical weapons; something that would unleash an unimaginable catastrophe, not to mention that his planes might actually carry such weapons.

Nevertheless, one thing seems to have united Libyans of all stripes; any military intervention on the ground by any foreign force would be met — as Mustafa Abud Al Jeleil, the former justice minister and head of the opposition-formed interim government, said — with fighting much harsher than what the mercenaries themselves have unleashed.

Nor do I favour the possibility of a limited air strike for specific targets. This is a wholly popular revolution, the fuel to which has been the blood of the Libyan people. Libyans fought alone when western countries were busy ignoring their revolution at the beginning, fearful of their interests in Libya. This is why I’d like the revolution to be ended by those who first started it: the people of Libya.

So as the calls for foreign intervention grow, I’d like to send a message to western leaders: Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy. This is a priceless opportunity that has fallen into your laps, it’s a chance for you to improve your image in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims. Don’t mess it up. All your previous programmes to bring the east and the west closer have failed, and some of them have made things even worse. Don’t start something you cannot finish, don’t turn a people’s pure revolution into some curse that will befall everyone. Don’t waste the blood that my friend Ahmed spilt for me.

Let us just live as neighbours on the same planet. Who knows, maybe I as your neighbour might one day show up at your doorstep to happily shake your hand.

• This article was commissioned and translated in cooperation with Meedan.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Jacqueline Prives Golburgh wrote:


  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Grace Caulfield wrote:

    Sharing now.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Cheryl L. Daytec wrote:

    I shared this.

    People’s movements should learn from the Filipinos. In 1986, a popular revolt ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. After more than 20 years of living in a state of tyranny, it seemed that to them the revolution was won when Marcos was evicted from Malacanang Palace. So the people went home and slept. And then the US of A stole the gains of the people’s movement. True, Pres. Corazon Aquino was no Marcos. Objectively she was a moral leader. But under her watch, the structures responsible for the hegemony of the US in the Philippines remained in place. The structures responsible for the hunger of millions remained in place. They wielded more power than she did. One by one, the people of Marcos regained power.

    Egypt and Tunisia have the benefit of hindsight of the Philippine experience. They should zealously protect and defend their gains from domestic and foreign vultures eager to steal their victories from them. Otherwise, their revolutions would be nothing more than the changing of the guards on duty.

    And Libya should really be very cautious of foreign intervention. Otherwise, life may be worse for them than it was under Gaddafi.

  4. Rob Chewter says...

    very moving indeed..a lesson here to be learned…

  5. Ken says...

    If there is outside intervention, who is it that you say would fight back even harder? Gaddafi’s loyalists or the insurgents?

  6. Jonathan Eyre says...


  7. Johan A. van der Merwe says...

    Thank you for sharing this important article, Andy. I am doing likewise.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone. I’m glad I’m not the only one who overlooked this, and that cross-posting it appears to have been useful. The “City of Ghosts” — that really resonates.
    And Ken, it’s both sides, from Muhammad’s analysis: “one thing seems to have united Libyans of all stripes; any military intervention on the ground by any foreign force would be met … with fighting much harsher than what the mercenaries themselves have unleashed.”

  9. Chuckles strikes again! | HermannView says...

    […] Standards Trust” (see here and here), the elite Council for Foreign Relations, the website of investigative journalist Andy Worthington, the usually horrible website The Daily Best, The […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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