Free Libya

The Libyan revolution started in mid February, at the peak of the 'Arab Spring'. Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak had fallen and the uprisings seemed to be gathering momentum, with mass protests calling for political reform across the Middle East and North Africa.

In many ways, the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia took the world by surprise. Even after the regime in Tunisia had fallen, observers seemed unable to believe that Egypt would be next. The miraculous speed with which the protesters in both countries managed to overthrow their entrenched leaders undoubtedly inspired the people of Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya to follow suit, hoping that the fervor which had gathered could be transferred from one country to another.

The catalyst for Libya's revolution came on 15 February when the lawyer Fathi Terbil, who represents relatives of more than 1,000 prisoners allegedly massacred by security forces in Tripoli's Abu Salim jail in 1996, was arrested. Several thousand protesters comprised mainly of family members of the slain Abu Salim prisoners and human rights activists took to the streets of Benghazi, Libya's second city.

The crowds marched on government buildings where some began to chant anti- government slogans. That night and over the following two days, clashes with Gadaffi supporters and the notorious security services ensued and gradually spiraled out of control. As the street battles intensified and casualties mounted, calls for regime change started to be heard and protesters started to target symbols of government control.

After several days of intense fighting and huge losses on both sides, Benghazi was liberated on Sunday the 19th of February. Other major cities in the East such as Al Baida, Darna and Tobruk also soon fell into the hands of the revolutionaries. Over the coming weeks, the opposition set up base in Benghazi and formed the National Transitional Council (NTC), an interim governing body to oversee the revolution and the transfer of power to a democratic state. When full- scale battles broke out between Gaddafi's forces and newly formed rebel militia towards the end of February, people began to realise that the struggle for freedom in Libya was going to be harder won than in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

As the insurgency progressed, daily life all but ground to a halt. Schools and universities remained closed, government salaries were not paid and banks opened just one day a week. People stayed at home, depressed, disillusioned, and bored. The revolution that started with such fervor had turned to stalemate. Medical supplies ran low and power cuts became a daily occurrence. It was to take a full 6 months of bitter fighting across the country for rebel forces to take Tripoli at the end of October.

I traveled to Libya twice in the space of the uprising, witnessing both brutal fighting and its aftermath as well as the eerie normality that started to descend on the country as it became clear that Col Gaddafi was not to be unseated that easily.

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