Bloodshed in Libya

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Thousands rise up against Muammar Gaddafi

Taouba Khelifa
Contributor

Feb. 15, 2011 is unlikely be forgotten by many Libyans.

That’s the day protesters in the city of Benghazi took to the streets, beginning what soon became a revolt against the government of Libya and its 42-year dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

Soon, the country saw pro-democracy protests rising in other cities. Al Bayda, Misurata, az-Zawiya, and even the capital, Tripoli – mostly populated by government loyalists – joined in the uprising.

However, what started as peaceful protests quickly turned into a nightmare.

Gaddafi promised that he would fight until death, and soon the blood of innocent civilians was shed.

Up until Feb. 24, outside media was banned from entering the country, telephone lines were tapped and later cut, and the internet stopped working for some time. The country was under a media blackout. On state television, images of happy pro-Gaddafi protests painted the screen.

And the atrocities began.

Through eyewitness reports and videos sent in by protesters, the world watched as civilians were killed by gunfire from security forces, heavy-calibre shells, and hired mercenaries paid to silence the uprising. The videos are difficult to watch and frightening – gun shots ringing in the background, and protesters scrambling to run away.

Mona Aboudheir, a Libyan-born Canadian living in Regina, was outraged at the silence and lack of action from the international community. “I cannot say why the international community was so late to state anything. And when they did, it was to condemn his actions. [That is] stating the obvious.”

The United Nations and its powers have certainly been put to the test with Libya’s uprising, and the international community has found itself in a difficult position. World leaders in the United States, Italy, United Kingdom, Arab League, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the UN condemned the actions and human rights violations by the Libyan government. But to date there has been no direct intervention by foreign powers.

Aboudheir says that it really shouldn’t be that difficult. What needs to be done, she says, is “directly contact this man and get him out. There is no need for military help; it’s too late for that. He needs to pack that tent of his and get dragged out. We need a solution now, no more beating around the bush.” 

Things, however, are easier said than done. While the international community has been slow in reacting to the situation in Libya, the world is not dealing with just any leader. Rather, they are dealing with Gaddafi, and he is a special case.

On Feb. 22, Gaddafi made his first appearance on state television since the protests began, and addressed the Libyan people. The dictator rambled on for more than an hour, talking about everything and anything. His words were not the words of a leader, but of a sick man.

“The words of a man that is over,” Aboudheir said. “He has nothing left: no power, no command, no dignity.” To her, this speech was a reflection of him trying to desperately hold on to the last threads of leadership.

Gaddafi blamed the uprising on drugs and pills that had mysteriously been slipped into the Nescafe cups of the protesters. He insulted his citizens and called them alley rats that had lost their way. In a telephone interview a few days later on state television, he even blamed the revolution on America, al-Qaeda, and Osama Bin Laden – who Gaddafi said he believes is in Libya right now – for slipping drugs to the youth so that they would revolt.

However, amongst the rambles of this leader were some frightening threats.

He was defiant and refused to step down. He encouraged his supporters to go out in the streets, and capture those who were putting Libya’s image to shame.

“If you love Moammar Gaddafi, go out and secure the streets, don't be afraid,” he said on Feb. 22. “Chase, arrest, and hand over those anti-government supporters.”

Gaddafi later went on to say that he would die a martyr for his country, and will continue to fight for his position until his very last drop of blood. 

And his threats had been followed through.

It has been estimated that the casualties in Libya are in the thousands, but it has been difficult to confirm the exact numbers.

One thing that is certain is that the killing rampage continues, with the number of casualties rising ever day. Aboudheir is shocked at how a leader could do such a thing, and to his own people.

“Live ammunition from the ground, planes, and mercenaries sent for unarmed civilians. They are just peaceful humans, asking for what? The thing that you and I take for granted everyday. Where is the justice?”

But justice and freedom seem to be words with forgotten meaning at this time. “Freedom is a word so loosely used that it doesn’t seem to hold a heavy meaning for us. But it’s so important,” Aboudheir argues. “It’s what every human dreams of, it’s the fresh air we breathe, it’s the colors of the sky. Freedom is life. Is that too much to ask for?”

The rest of the world should agree that no, it isn’t too much to ask for. Still, Gaddafi’s regime has challenged people’s values and morals. His actions have put human rights to test, questioning the importance of the rights we are entitled toward, but have so little access to.

For now, the world is waiting for justice and freedom to come to the people of Libya.

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