Benghazi… and Libya

We love Benghazi

We love Benghazi

One year ago this month, we experienced overwhelming joy and optimism in Libya when we spent a week there as election observers. We knew that there would be very hard times to come on the road to a new, freer and more just nation, but over the months, we have watched events unfold with increasing despair as small groups with big and dangerous agendas have done their best to try to derail that hopeful future.

Our Libyan friends here and in Libya express even more frustration and anger, although for us, the worst moment occurred in June when we learned of the senseless death of one of our great Benghazi friends, accidentally caught in gunfire as one of that city’s militias fought with authorities.

Over the past few days, there has been terrible and sad news from  Libya: assassinations of four individuals who had been committed to Libya’s freedom; bombsings, including one that attacked the courthouse in Benghazi (the scene of all those moving freedom rallies in 2011); and more tragic and sad events. (See also this article by the excellent Libyan ex-pat author, Hisham J. Matar)

But those attacks have not destroyed our optimism and hope for the country.

There have been large and moving rallies in Benghazi, Tripoli, and other cities standing up for the principles Libyans fought and died for in 2011. As soon as the Benghazi courthouse was destroyed, the citizens of that great city — the cradle of the 2011 Revolution, and a city deep in our hearts because of the friends we have made there — began to rebuild it.

Citizens of Benghazi begin to rebuild the city’s courthouse

The photo at the top of this post, taken in front of our house in 2011 expresses our feeling about Benghazi, and about Libya. (The flag flew at our house throughout the months of the Libyan Revolution).

The video below, “Benghazi will not die” also expresses our feelings and support for that city.  (The video was posted on YouTube by tunafmb)

[jwplayer player=”4″ mediaid=”1370″]

For Ahmed

Tonight we received tragic news from our friend Abdul Salam in Benghazi.

He said he had waited a long time before he was ready to call us to tell us that one of our great Benghazi friends, Ahmed (“The Red”) al Faitory was killed by gunfire during fighting in Benghazi (in his neighbourhood) on June 16.

Ahmed, fighting for Libyan freedom. 2011

Ahmed, fighting for Libyan freedom. 2011

This was very painful and sad news. We could only listen to Abdul Salam talk about the circumstances through our tears. We couldn’t speak. And Ahmed’s death seemed just a little more hurtful that he died on my birthday, while we were celebrating it in Istanbul.

Ironically, tonight after hearing the news, I started searching through old emails we’d received from Ahmed. (Unlike our other two Benghazi friends, Ahmed the Red spoke — and wrote — very little English). I found this birthday note he sent me on June 16, 2007:

hi dear frined jhon
i still see your face in my mined , i still remember that good time together

i missed you so much man, so happy birthday and i hope you will get a long good lifetime

good bye for this moments

Ahmed, we so wish that you had the long, good lifetime that you deserved.

We were proud that when Benghazi rose up against Gaddafi, you fought for your country’s freedom, and we despair that you — who had so much to offer — lost your life… for nothing.

We know that you really tried to get to Tripoli last July to see us, but couldn’t. We looked forward to some day going back to Benghazi to see you, Ahmed and Abdul Salam, and your other friends and families who we met in 2007. Those days are among our most treasured memories.

We miss you.

Always our friend. Always in our hearts.

With much love,
John & Oksana

(Click on photos for larger images)


Our last Benghazi photo: at the airport, with Ahmed, Abdul Salam and Ahmed (The Red”)



Ahmed, with his parents

Ahmed, with his parents

In the Benghazi market: Ahmed, Oksana, Abdul Salam

In the Benghazi market: Ahmed, Oksana, Abdul Salam


Remarkable celebrations

I loved this set of Tweets sent out yesterday by the Libyan Youth Movement (@ShababLibya), in the midst of the huge celebrations in Libya on the 2nd anniversary of the Libyan Revolution:

Imagine living in a country where the only celebration took place happened to celebrate something you didn’t even want to recognize. #libya

Where even your favourite spectator sport was tainted by the regime’s hand. Also, forget concerts or any live entertainment. No expression

Now imagine that goes on for forty two years, to the point where you even begin to forget what public/national celebrations are…

Imagine that glass being finally shattered and you gain the freedom to smile, to sing, to wave a flag you recognize. #libya #feb17

What we see today in #Libya are celebrations of a people who actually haven’t had much practice at it& they’re doing a fabulous job! #feb17

How many national holidays, celebrations, concerts, fireworks, face paint, music, candy, laughter, & smiles could you have in 42 yrs? #libya

Pack all of that into one day= #feb17 celebrations, may we see many many many more to come. #libya


What a great few days it’s been for Libyans and friends of Libya, as everyone marks the second anniversary of the February 17 Revolution. Truly, this was an amazing accomplishment for Libyans, who sacrificed so much, and for the outside world who saved countless Libyan lives, and finally helped Libyans throw off a bloody dictator.

I’ve been a bit too busy finishing up my Libyan election posts to have followed as much news as I’d want to, but I’ve seen how joyous Libya has been. Many in Libya who have grown frustrated by the apparent lack of progress since the Revolution, are happy and proud today.

And we are both extremely happy for their joy.

Below, a photo taken in Fashloom, Tripoli on Feb. 17. From Muhammad Bugashata via Twitter