Editor’s note: Yusra Tekbali reported on Libyan women for WBEZ with reporter Natalie Moore last August. Six months later, she has submitted this blog post about her most recent experiences fleeing Libya.
I arrived in Libya on December 28, 2010, the same day ousted Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali visited Bouazizi in hospital after he burnt himself to death and sparked the revolution in Tunisia.
It’s February 28, and I’m just arriving in Malta, after escaping from Libya by boat with some of my family and hundreds of others who feared for their life in Tripoli. Col. Muammar Qaddafi and his regime have brutally cracked down on peaceful protestors, killing thousands and destroying the country in a desperate attempt to retain power.
You can tell when something is wrong when diplomats, ambassadors, top army generals, and family members had the courage to leave Baba Muammar. In doing so, they symbolically said Libya’s children were worth more than one man’s life — perhaps their own. The young men fighting for freedom in Libya are also saying the same thing. They risk their life for Libya’s future, and they’ve woken its people put of their slumber. In Tripoli, men fighting every day, face a brutal force with threats to massacre entire neighborhoods.
After Libya’s uprising began on February 17, my family and I barely left our home in Tripoli. We regularly heard gunshots, automatic weapons fire, protestors shouting pro and anti-Qaddafi slogans. Each day, the gunshots became more frequent and our daily life was jeopardized. For a week we did nothing but watch the news, wince at sounds of gunshots and mourn reports of violence and deadly raids on people in neighborhoods nearby.
During the last few days, only protestors left their homes. Stores closed and streets were empty. I heard reports from men who saw first-hand the courage of fellow protestors. They talked about how they met in Suq Juma area of Tripoli and saw an unmarked car full of security forces firing on the protesters in a drive-by killing tactic repeated in other areas of Tripoli.
I heard accounts from friends in Tajura, about 10 miles from Tripoli, and the wind was knocked out of me. In one incident, thousands of protestors began marching towards Tripoli, calling for Qaddafi to leave. The government responded by shooting at them with machine guns. There’s a gruesome video from this incident on Facebook, where one man is shot in the face, while his friend records and yells “Record it, Record this martyr. Show Al Jazeera.”
Yet the government denies any of these incidents. Qaddafi and his son Seif-al-Islam speak on television as if they belong to a different universe. They deny facts, and the government has gone so far as to burn the people it’s killed, denying them of not only a proper life, but a proper death as well.
There have been reports by doctors telling police who raid their hospitals and kill or kidnap the patients to conceal evidence and lie about the death toll. What will they tell the mothers of the fallen? That their crime was peacefully asking for change, for some dignity, for the chance to live a life free of the fear of being bullied and corrupted by the government’s immoral philosophy? “Only in Libya,” is a people’s movement to expose the country’s backwardness: Only in Libya, has there been 42 years of crime. Welcome to Libya: where a good deed is turned into a crime. Libya has more martyrs than Tunisia and Egypt in less time- a testament to the brutality of Qaddafi and his hired criminals. Tripoli, the city with so much potential, those young men and women with so much potential, desperately need help.
I have heard reports on the ground from men with family and friends in Benghazi who say help from the east is on its way. Today in Benghazi, the heart of the revolution, journalists are allowed in, and so are doctors and nurses and friendly faces. It will be rebuilt, but it also needs help. The international community, including some Arab countries is beginning to donate humanitarian aid. This effort must continue so that Benghazi can get back up on its feet, in new shoes, even as it helps Tripoli out of it’s old ones. Libyans don’t accept division. When some media was reporting east vs. west, we in Libya were shaking our heads and furrowing our brows in confusion. Libyans may come from many tribes, but they are one people. Libya cannot exist without Tripoli, and Tripoli cannot exist without Benghazi.
And now, the world must continue the effort to help Tripoli. Indeed, it seems everyone on the face of the Earth has condemned Qaddaf from the United Nations to the United States imposing sanctions. Yet Libyan forces and mercenaries from other countries continue to pillage homes, indiscriminately shoot at protestors and brutally kill anyone who stands up for justice.
Tripoli will be liberated, but it needs help. Now is the time for NATO and the international community to step in, and take bold action. One that effectively ends the mass killings, one that effectively and permanently puts an end to this madness.