“I’ve never witnessedsuch rain in all my life!” that’s what most Libyans will tell you when talkingabout the amount of rain the country has seen in the last few weeks sinceGaddafi was toppled. Libyans consider rain a good omen, in a country where 90%of its land is a dry desert; it’s not surprising that any drop of rain will be cherishedand interpreted as a blessing from heavens, especially when many will admit thatthe evilness of Gaddafi kept rain away from falling on the country. And I mustadmit that I myself have never witnessed such rain in my life!
During the months ofthe Libyan revolution many activists inside and outside Libya relied on socialmedia to either organise themselves, exchange information, campaign for causes,or relay news reports on the situation inside the country. Twitter was used bymany activists outside Libya, and to a lesser extent inside Libya. I had theopportunity to meet a group of Libyan tweeps that were involved in activitieson the ground during the early days of the revolution before the internet wascut by the regime, and during the weeks and months afterwards. Ali, Akram andSaeed, are part of a group of highly skilled internet activists that I knewthrough the internet, and met physically, some for the first time, at CasaCaffe in Tripoli’s old town.
All three of them wereactive on Twitter in the early days of the revolution, and continued to work duringthe hard months in Tripoli. We all agreed that despite the low percentage ofinternet users in Libya (5.5%), when compared with its neighbours in Tunisiaand Egypt (more than 10%) of the population in both, but the type of internetusers in Libya, their IT abilities and online skills, made it possible for manyusers to continue to work and provide crucial information and coordination evenwhen the service was cut by the regime, the quality of internet users in Libyawas valuable in the electronic war against a regime that established a smallbrigade of internet hackers known as ‘The Green Electronic Army” to spreadmisinformation and trace activists.
The next day I accompaniedmy mother a community events in our neighbourhood, which was held in my oldprimary school. I found it amusing to go and visit the place after nearlytwenty years, which seemed to me much smaller than I remembered. Social and communityevents, also known as Bazaars, became a regular feature in Tripoli and many otherLibyan towns and cities. These events usually focus on women, children andfamilies of neighbourhoods and communities in the city, where members of the communitymeet and participate in simple activities like singing, selling homemadecrafts, and foods, and traditional costume show for little girls, and aims tocollect donations for community charity projects, and promote social cohesion.Since Tripoli’s liberation, dozens of these events have been held either onlocal level or for the whole city. Some people criticized such events on theground that they have a sense of celebration and festivity, which they argue isinsensitive, while other parts of the country is still in war and many are beingkilled and injured every day.
Later in the day newsreports came in that fighting erupted in the southern neighbourhood of AbuSalim, also known for the notorious Abu Salim prison. While many local observersdownplayed the incident, media outlets failed to present an accurate picture ofwhat really happened, combined with an exaggerated reaction by the different militarygroups dealing the capital’s security, showing their strong presence in everymain road to indicate their readiness to prevent any signs of lawlessness orsupport for Gaddafi and his regime in the city.
Presenting the reality on the ground in Libyawasn’t and still isn’t an easy task, many media outlets still follow exaggeratedreports and rumours, the daily consumption of a small community that developeda distrust to local news outlets. While social media, especially Facebook andTwitter, helped in many ways relay news and information from Libya, I stillthink that we are not seeing the real picture, and I find myself cautious whenit comes to using social media as a news source, in the absence of professionalmedia workers on the ground. As long as the internet usage is limited to a smallpercentage of the population, not all will be presented with their opinions andviews on social media tools like Twitter, we are bound to get a distorted pictureof reality and in some cases a false one.
I spent my last eveningin Tripoli with friends and colleagues at the Press building, meetingenthusiastic journalists who are working on producing new publications, amongthem re-launching the prominent Libyan children’s magazine (al-Amal) which wasfirst published in 1964 by social and women activist the late Khadija Jahami,there are also plans to produce a magazine for teenagers, and another forwomen. Idris Mesmari, the head of the Press Authority stressed on the independenceof all publications which are funded by the organisation, saying his role isonly administrative and that the authority doesn’t interfere in the editorial policyof any publication and journalists have the freedom to discuss any matter,without getting any permission or being censored.
Not far from the Pressbuilding large machinery and bulldozers was busy tearing down the high walls ofthe infamous Bab al-Aziziya compound, while a large JCB was tearing downGaddafi’s symbolic home inside the compound. Libyans are being liberated oncemore from a symbol of fear and tyranny, erasing another shred of memory thatreminds them of this regime, promising never to go back, hoping that the victimwon’t turn into the victimiser.