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English

English

Coeur d’or

image

For L. …once more

A small window on the roof.
Darkness penetrates.
A lingering presence spreads some shadow and crimson light on her blossoming face.

The heart moans with every beat,
It overcomes her sighs and punctures a wound…
A fissuring wound in the chest.
Her hand caresses my ribs, counting their wishes,
And listens in the silence to the echo of the beat.

I whisper a word…
Two words in a tongue I borrowed from childhood but still sounds alien in my old dream.
“Golden heart” jumps,
Survives another death in her lips.

The light fades in the distance,
All is clouds and vermilion tongues.

I watch myself through the window,
Fading in the darkness,
Dissolving in her face.

Whisper

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By: Ahmed Yousef Aqila

1

In the classroom, he glances the teacher and his stick. He whispers without looking at me “give me a ruler, my ruler is broken”

2

In the army, he glances the officer that is parading us in the courtyard. He whispers without looking at me “my shoes are not shiny as they ought to be. Will he notice that?”

3

Before reaching the revolutionaries' checkpoint, he whispers in my ear “will the new revolutionaries stay for forty years under the pretext of revolutionary legitimacy like the General did? Or will the Islamists grab power under the pretext of establishing God’s law?”

4

In our desert excursion, we sip tea under a moon spreading its light equally on every corner. He whispers, while looking at me this time “Do you want me to put more sugar in your tea?”

2013

_______

* Ahmed Yousef Aqila: (b. 1958) is a renowned Libyan short storyteller, has several published short story collections and also published several books on Libyan folk tales and poetry. 

* To read the original short story in the original Arabic click here

A Question

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By: Giuma Bukleb

Roads tearing earth's body

East and West

North and South.

Long, short, twisted, plane, extremely steep,

Ascending, wide, foggy, tarmacked, sandy, muddy,

Flat, bending.

Roads that fool you and others you fool. Roads you love

And roads you hate. Roads you dream of and others nightmarish.

Beautiful roads lined with greenery and trees, and others

Regenerate tedium and boredom. Dangerous roads and others

Relaxing. Roads that know no meaning to comfort and others don't

Know the meaning of congestion.

Roads…

Roads…

Why

Do all roads

Lead

Only

Into exile?!

a cup brimful with sour days..

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In the middle of a long path
I regurgitate some leftovers from the night before
Pretend I am handsome in my self-deprecation
And nurse a cup brimful with sour days

He has the habit to smack his head protestingly
Recites his epic lamentation,
“They are”
“We are”
“Those people”
“Our problem is…”
“They, Them”
“We, I”
“They should”
And if only.

On the last turn,
I get a glimpse of home,
Staring back with indifference,
Smiling disapprovingly of the way I combed my hair 

They never fail you, those moments
Telling you how they:
“Told you so!”
“What to expect!”
“Alas!”
“All in vain”
And it’s useless 

Revenge isn't served in this café,
Someone got greedy and claimed it all,
Selling it for free,
If only one can afford it 

Running away from his tormentor,
Licking bitter words,
“Stay away!”
“Will join soon”
“You are lucky”
“Why you are here?!”
And I will flee 

I look at the bottom of the glass,
The last drop of loathing bubbles
Drowning slowly in mid-dream
Gliding towards the face…

 

Bitter Hope

 
In a short story I wrote long before the Libyan uprising, I imagined a man riding beside a reckless and erratic driver along with several other silent passengers in a very old car. 
 
Driving for an eternity on a long never ending hot baking road, the man kept asking the driver only one question, “Where are we going?!”

That scene and that question depicted the general sense of despair and helplessness towards the situation in Gaddafi’s Libya.

Two years ago Libya was on the verge of a tumultuous transformation. The capital Tripoli, was being taken by rebel forces and Gaddafi and his loyalists were on the run.

The Libyan people had never been as joyous and full of hope about the future of their country. 

They felt that they waited too long for closure and that their sacrifice and resilience had paid off. It was all, at last, worth it.

Libya today is a country suffering from serious problems: a weak central government that struggles to maintain basic services, law and order, different armed groups that are violently competing to maintain their gains, a new political clique that is working on isolating their rivals by all means, and a fragmented society that distrusts government but still relies on it heavily. 

But despite all these serious problems, Libyans maintain a modest level of hope and optimism, mixed with bitterness and disappointment that the country’s course isn’t living up to the sacrifices and expectations.

While it is true that the general image is of despair and frustration, I among other Libyans, believe that the revolution, ignited in mid February 2011, was and continues to be a generational turning point, and nothing can change the significance and importance of that event.  

Today many Libyans would like to claim ownership of the revolution and its relative and modest victories, but would distance themselves from the accumulating blunders and failures and the long list of missed opportunities that might, just might, have given them the country that they wished for.

The collective refusal to share and claim accountability is probably a way to escape confronting the difficult and existential question: “Was it all worth it?!”

Some would argue that the question of worthiness is the wrong one to ask with such a fluid and unpredictable force as revolution. And it could also trivialise this long and hard struggle, reducing it to a single definitive answer of “Yes!” or “No!”

We might be allowed to be angry, upset and frustrated, but we are not allowed in our loathsome disappointment, to lose hope. Without hope we wouldn't be able to lift ourselves from our legacy of despotism, social stagnation and the carcasses of lost opportunities.

In the end of the short story of the long car ride, the questioning passenger was kicked out of the car and left alone on the dark baking tarmac, the blurred sight of the old car driving away in the distant horizon. As he languished under the blazing sun he kept asking “Where are we going?!” 

After many years of being left alone in the middle of nowhere, I can imagine him being offered a ride by possibly the same old car, glad he is back on the road, accepting the fact that this will be a bumpy arduous ride, but moving towards somewhere, that might be, in the end, worth it.

Free speech in post-Gaddafi Libya

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Free speech in Libya has been transformed in a relatively short period. The initial boom of diverse independent media outlets has been hailed by many observers as one of the major achievements of the Libyan uprising after decades of oppression on the freedom of ordinary people to voice their opinion and dissent.

However the initial euphoria gave way to frustration. It became apparent that developing laws and regulations that achieve the balance between freedom of speech and defamation will not be an easy task. Newly drawn restrictions to freedom when dealing with militant and fundamentalist armed groups and the religious establishment, combined with lawlessness of many parts of the country, is hindering the development of the concept of freedom of speech in post-revolutionary Libya.

In Gaddafi’s Libya, it was difficult for writers and journalists to work and publish outside the state-owned media outlets. Journalists faced banning, harassment, imprisonment, torture and death. Even when the regime attempted to improve its image, through Gaddafi’s son Saif-Islam, in what was dubbed the “Libya Tomorrow” project, the scope of freedom of expression didn’t go beyond criticising some corrupt state officials.

During the uprising independent media outlets became mostly synonymous with “resistance journalism” which focused mainly on rallying the people against the regime and documenting the many violations committed by Gaddafi loyalists.

The ability to write and publish without prior approval or censorship in newspapers, magazines, websites, or on social media was a huge leap for many writers and journalists.

The Libyan uprising produced, for the first time in many decades, hundreds of media outlets free from state control or official censorship. The state regulator and censor that was inherited from the Gaddafi era, and is yet to be dissolved, became an obsolete relic of a bygone age of oppression and censorship.

After the revolutionary fervour settled, and with the country entering a new era of rebuilding and establishing its state institutions, independent newspapers and publications found that adjusting to the new reality of post-revolution Libya wasn’t an easy task.

Many faced closure either because of lack of funding or a lack of professionally experienced journalists and writers to fill their pages, while dozens of television and radio channels found it difficult to attract audience with only revolutionary programming of discussion shows and nationalist songs, as is the case of the two state owned television channels, Al-Wataniya, and Al-Rasmiya that continue to fill their slots with irrelevant talk shows.

Protecting the rights of individuals to express their opinions peacefully and freely faced a challenge when the former National Transitional Council, bowing to pressure from certain exclusionary elements in the country, issued Law 37 to criminalise any “insult to the Libyan people and its institutions”, or glorifying Gaddafi and his regime, or any action that may harm the “Revolution” or Islam, was revoked by the Libyan supreme court and deemed unconstitutional, a decision that was supported and welcomed by many observers of freedom both inside and outside Libya.

In the post-uprising reality, newspapers and television channels that dared investigate claims of corruption and human rights violations, committed mostly by rogue militant and fundamentalist armed groups, face violent attacks; television channels have been vandalised, journalists kidnapped and tortured, or forced into silence or exile, and in some cases imprisoned and prosecuted under Gaddafi-era laws, as in the case of Amara al-Khatabi, who is accused of defaming Libyan judiciary after his newspaper published a list of judges it said were involved in corruption.

The other major challenge is enshrining freedom of expression in the constitution and protecting this right with laws that respect the rights of journalists and writers to report without fear. This could only begin by abolishing all Gaddafi era laws that infringe freedom of speech, some of which are still being used. It is expected that the long awaited constitution would protect freedom of expression and the rights of journalists and writers, and the arduous process of writing this constitution has begun with the members of the national congress (Parliament) to directly elect a 60 member constitutional committee that will be given the task of preparing the document, and is expected to be ready for a general referendum mostly by early 2014.

An official at the Libyan Ministry of Culture told me that the current government is aware of this problem and how old laws are being used to censor, ban and confiscate books, newspapers and other printed materials. But he said that changing these laws is not a priority as the government struggles to build state institutions from scratch.

The internet in general and social media in particular played an important role during the revolution, and it is still considered a major player in consolidating freedom of expression gains, and has so far not been censored or hindered except by its infra-structure which needs to be improved so it can reach more people in the country.

With the number of Facebook users in Libya approaching one million (862,060 according to Social Bakers, as of April 2013) many Libyans, are exercising their rights to criticise and debate any issues or figures in the government or other political elements, though some might argue that the lack of professionalism and accountability in social media is causing more harm than good, by spreading rumours and malicious reporting.

Libya ranked 131st in the World Press Freedom Index 2013, making the most gains in freedom compared to its Arab uprising neighbours, Tunisia and Egypt.

But the challenges ahead are daunting and the concerns that those gains can be lost are real.
_________________

* First published on Index on Censorship