I still can remember vividly the child I was, growing up under the shadow of Gaddafi regime. Opposing Gaddafi at our home, like many Libyan homes, was normality, but there was always a warning from our parents to never speak negatively about him outside the house or in the presence of strangers or at school. Living a double life was the best way to survive in Libya for a vast sector of society; it was passive way of expressing opposition to a regime that sent its opponents behind the sun.
Gaddafi regime was determined to seep into every detail of our lives, and plant the seeds of suspicion and fear between people, so it becomes normal not to discuss the political situation of the country with friends or colleagues at school or university for fear that they might turn out to be informants working for the regime, that kept records of all individuals suspected of showing tendencies of dissent or opposition, and in case they can’t silence you, they will try to contain you by recruiting you into the regime and later corrupting any energetic and politically active individuals.
As a writer in Gaddafi’s Libya, self censorship was a skill you had to develop to continue surviving, learning to avoid writing about the political problems in Libya and mentioning even metaphorically Gaddafi and his despotic regime in works of literature. Publishing daring works outside the country to avoid being censored or banned became an act of defiance against the regime. Living under this fear Libyan writers suffered imprisonment, torture and death on the hand of various security apparatuses of Gaddafi regime.
During the few days before the Libyan uprising in early February, and after witnessing the fates of two despots in Tunisia and Egypt, many were hopeful that our moment of freedom in Libya has arrived, but most were sceptical what exactly will happen, it was this unpredictability that destabilised the regime and brought its demise in the end. The invincibility that Gaddafi bestowed on his image and existence made the idea that in few months he will be erased from the memory of most Libyans unthinkable.
Our fears that Gaddafi sowed the seeds of chaos in the country after decades of inexistent constitutional and political life in Libya and his policy of ruling by exploiting the divides between the various social components of the Libyan society, fuelling tribal rivalries, and depriving Libyans from forming parties and political movements or social and civic associations meant that the only mean of dissent was either violence or to conform to the social norms. Gaddafi made it clear that his regime was the only way of ensuring stability and prosperity in the country otherwise we will end up with divided violent unstable Libya.
During my visit to Libya last month, I met many Libyan activists that are working towards building a new democratic and civic culture in Libya, terms like ‘political party, NGOs, free press, demonstrations, and elections’ that were inexistent and incriminating just few months ago under Gaddafi regime, are becoming part of the normal discussions and conversations on the Libyan streets, this transformation is indicative that tyranny is the main source of divide and chaos and fear, and that providing people with basic freedoms will open up a horizon of possibilities and that change can be achieved through dialogue and mutual understanding.
Walking the streets of the Libyan capital Tripoli, noticing that all traces of Gaddafi, his images, banners and slogans of his political ideology, disappeared, gives an indication how eager Libyans are to move forward and address crucial challenges to rebuild their country, forming a stable unified, competent transitional government, that will prepare for the first constitutional elections in the country since its independence in 1951, embarking on the essential process of reconciliation and healing between Libyans, looking after the wellbeing of thousands of Libyans who were injured or suffered trauma during the past months of the conflict, building a new security and military organisations that will ensure stability and the rule of law, disarming and controlling armed groups and militias, all this while putting strategic plans to rebuild the damaged infrastructure, and providing basic services in health and education and employment.
The role of women in the Libyan revolution is a cornerstone, they were the inspiriting force of the first protests against the regime in mid February and they continue to play crucial role in civil societies and NGOs and new media. Some Libyan women are still concerned that their role in society won’t be recognised as it should be and that regressive social elements will try to marginalise their participation in the political social and economic fields in Libya.
Libyan women activists gathered in the past few weeks in many conference and events to discuss the challenges ahead. These events managed to discuss matters and issues on the status of women’s rights in future Libya, and openly discussing the interaction between social and religious norms and traditions concerning women’s status in the country. More various and inclusive events and associations to protect and push for women’s rights and participation in government and decision making in Libya will be crucial to ensure the welfare of Libyan society in the future.
Libya is embarking towards a difficult journey of reconciliation, healing and rebuilding. As one friend kept reminding me of the challenging task ahead, stressing out that the past several months were brutal and painful, but the upcoming several months and maybe years will be critical and most difficult and hard for Libya, and that there is no room for complacency, and we should continue our struggle for a free, democratic and just Libya.