Just across the streetfrom the United Nations mission headquarters in Tripoli’s Baladiya Street, stands al-Safwa hotel.A decade ago, young and upcoming Libyan writers and intellectuals used to meetup at its small cafe, where it became during the years a centre for Libyanintelligentsia in Tripoli to meet, and discuss and read their latest literaryworks. I used to visit the place every time I visited Libya, but during theyears this group that often visited the cafe stopped coming back, some weresucked into the pressure of the daily hardships of life, others found newplaces, as public places in the city grew in number, while others, like me,left the country, or left this life altogether.
Parking my car at thesame parking lot, on a quiet warm Libyan afternoon, and passing by the emptychairs of al-Safwa hotel cafe, observing the details of the streets of downtownTripoli, the same smells of dust and car smock, and overflowing sewers, youngmen standing outside the shops of Magrief street with cups of coffee in onehand and a cigarette between their fingers, the details of the place gave methe delusion of normality, that nothing has changed, as if the place, thebuildings, the walls, the streets, weren’t aware of the changes occurringaround us.
Tripoli is going backto its normal habits, the graffiti on the walls and the tri-colours of theindependence flag, a fresh sea breeze free from the fearsome images of Gaddafior “Shafshoufa” as he is mockingly known now, are reminders that somethingdramatic occurred here, but Tripoli seems keen, and impatient, to return backto a normality, as it did before many times for hundreds of years, or as afriend puts it, rather cynically, that the revolution is finished and now weare entering a phase of politics, that many Libyans won’t be interested intaking part in.
Not far away fromMartyrs Square, sellers erected market stalls to sell “revolutionary” merchandise,independence flags in different sizes and forms, Tri-colour scarves, hats,bracelets, necklaces, rings, key holders, and many other products, some showedthe Amazighi symbols and flag, while other stalls sold cassettes and CDs with revolutionarysongs, but the most funny one was selling posters and photoshoped pictures ofGaddafi and his cronies in comical scenes, mocking the man that used to callhimself the “the king of kings”.
Walking in the narrow alleywaysof the old town, a sense of normality is trying to return to the streets, thefamous gold and silver merchants, the traditional economic powerhouse ofTripoli, were all open dealing with gold and exchanging currencies, a stone’s throwfrom the Libyan Central Bank. The copper engravers and craftsmen were busy carvingnew revolutionary images in their old dark shops.
Close to (The ClockTower), a famous landmark in Tripoli, there used to be a traditional Libyancafe, which was renovated into a more modern touristic coffee and sandwich shop,named (Caffe Casa) where many international journalists and mediacorrespondents sit and enjoy the sun and sea breeze in a city that held themfor many weeks hostages at a gilded cage called the Rixos Hotel.
In the evening Ivisited the headquarters of newly established ‘Authority’ overseeing andsupporting newspapers and journalism, after passing by the ruined and charredpress building in Jumhouriya Street that was targeted with mortar shells byGaddafi forces during the battle to liberate Tripoli last August. The newbuilding was also scarred with bullet holes on its facade as it was targeted byfleeing Gaddafi troops during the same battle. I met Idris Mesmari the head ofthe (Press Authority), a writer and activist that was detained for a decade byGaddafi regime during the 1980’s, and was the voice of revolt in Benghazi inthe first night of the Libyan uprising in February, where he was detained formonths in Tripoli before managing to escape.
The Press buildinghouses the new official newspaper Febraiyer (February) a sixteen pages daily tabloidsize newspaper, that is funded by the press authority, and run by youngenthusiastic Libyan journalists, some used to work under extremely difficultconditions in Gaddafi regime newspapers, and now are enjoying the atmosphere offreedom that has been gained in Libya.
The Press Authority issaid to help and support new publication by only granting them a permission tobe exempted from paying any printing costs for at least the first three issues,then any new publication must pay printing costs for the next issues if it was lookingto stay in circulation. Nader, a journalist working with (Febraiyer), and usedto work with many pre-revolution publications, spoke about how Gaddafi secretpolice wrote damning reports about many journalists, including himself, whenthey didn’t show loyalty to the regime during the last several months, and somewere even arrested and tortured, and now he is glad that a new Libyan press isemerging after decades of censorship and persecution. The task isn’t easy, hetold me, the newspaper is facing technical difficulties, lack of printingpaper, and old unmaintained offset printers, but all the journalists are fullof hope that they will overcome these difficulties.
Driving back home atdusk, I passed by the ruins of Bab al-Aziziya, Gaddafi infamous compound, manycars were leaving the compound that has been turned into a public place forfamilies and ordinary people to visit, market stalls of sellers occupied partsof the place to sell their revolutionary merchandise and some people spoke of thesheep market will be placed inside, prior to Eid al-Ad’ha next month.
From the east abrighter moon was rising in another night in Tripoli without fear.
To be continued…