Diya Ramadan reflects on Libya’s struggles

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It has been a difficult year for Ramadan, a student at the U of R, and his family

Sophie Long
Contributor

Tripoli’s recent emancipation has been the cause of great celebration in Libya lately, with the disappearance of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi signaling a new start for the nation. While Libyans are aware the country will struggle to rebuild itself, celebrations continue in the recently-freed capital.

The Libyan revolution started in February of this year after the arrest of Fathi Terbil, a human-rights lawyer in Benghazi, led to widespread protest. Gaddafi’s regime entered its 42nd year and his policy to “make examples” of those who stood against him continued. Many civilians were killed in an attempt to stop the protests. However, rather than scaring the rest of the North African nation as Gaddafi had hoped, the massacres spurred on protests.

This, according to Diya Ramadan, was the biggest surprise to those from Libya. Raised in Tripoli, Ramadan, a second-year engineering student at the University of Regina, was told by his family to never speak out regarding his country’s governance. “The walls have ears” was a common phrase told to him as a child, warning him not to share his opinions freely.

As a country, Libya feared the repercussions of speaking out against Gaddafi. This was mostly due to his policy regarding outspoken citizens. At any time, a citizen of Libya could enter a police station and report someone for talking about Gaddafi and be rewarded for “aiding the government”.

Ramadan painted an image of Mafia-like justice: “If someone told them you talked, you would be killed. And it’s not just you, it’s your family, too. They would arrest your brother and have your father suddenly fired from his job.”

For over 40 years, the children of Libya have been raised with the fear of having their families torn apart, simply for disagreeing with their leader’s ideals. Gaddafi’s power led many to believe he had spies and informants everywhere.

The continued protests by the citizens of Libya were encouraged by the success of Tunisia and Egypt’s revolutions. However, Gaddafi’s fear of being overthrown simply tightened his grip on the country, leading him to make declarations like, “I will die as a martyr at the end,” and, “We won’t surrender again; we are not women; we will keep fighting.”

Gaddafi continued to fight against the internal revolution, despite the United Nations’ attempts to overthrow him by freezing his assets and preventing him from travelling.

In late August this year, Gaddafi lost power of Tripoli, essentially freeing Libya. Ramadan, who has family and friends in the capital, described the battle for the city: “All the houses were open. They were used as hospitals and helped anyone they could. My cousins and uncles were fighting for our neighbourhood”.

Rebels had arranged for weapons to be sent into Tripoli by boat on Aug. 20,, and the struggle began. Tripoli was freed, but many were wounded. It is suspected that 50,000 have been killed during the civil war, with 40,000 missing.

Despite Libya’s struggles, the country is now free and is run by the rebel-led National Transitional Council (NTC). The NTC’s motto is “Freedom, Justice, Democracy”, and Ramadan  believes this is the best thing for Libyans, both at home and in Canada.

“Ramadan this year was different,” he said. “Everyone came together.”

There is relief now for Libya, despite the sorrow of the thousands of deaths. There is constant celebration in the capital since Gaddafi and his family fled Libya.

Ramadan recalled hearing about the struggle in his home during reading week last year. He remembers studying for midterms and stopping to check the news. Aside from worrying about his schoolwork, Ramadan was concerned for the future of his home and the safety of his family.

“We would all try to study, but then we would decide to watch the news first,” he said. “It was hard to concentrate.”

Ramadan  is fortunate that he has lost no family or friends through the civil war. His friends call him to remind him he is missing so much, but Ramadan has the opportunity to watch his home grow from afar and look forward to the time he returns to his newly-freed country.  “They say even the air smells different with Gaddafi gone,” he said. “The old men feel young again.”

However, Libya is not entirely free. Two cities, Sirte and Bani Walid, continue to be controlled by Gaddafi and there is constant battle and revolt from rebel forces. Terror continues to reign in these communities, as families refuse join the rebels for fear of being killed or arrested. The freedom for Tripoli is a huge milestone in Libya’s struggle, but Gaddafi’s elusive voice remains strong in these cities. Gaddafi has not been seen for months, but his face appears on television in Sirte, vowing “guerrilla warfare” upon those who have stood against him.

With most of Libya freed, it appears to be only a matter of time until these cities are removed from Gaddafi’s power. His grip continues to tighten on Sirte and Bani Walid, as he watches his power fade across the nation, and it will be a struggle to take these cities from him.
Libya will need continued support from Canada and other nations as it moves towards a life where human rights are respected and democracy is essential. Libya must learn how to live freely and without fear.

These events may stand as a reminder for those who have lived through Gaddafi’s rule that things must never return to their former state. If so, Ramadan believes that Libya “will be better than ever.”

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