The Arab world is fired up right now. Paving the way, the people of Tunisia and Egypt have successfully removed their dictators and are in the process of rebuilding their countries. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have sparked anti-government movements across the entire Arab world, after decades of stagnation. And there is no turning back now.
Furious protests are happening now in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. Governments are scrambling to do everything they can to stop them, by any means necessary. Still, hundreds of thousands of people are out in the streets protesting with no fear, ready to die in the name of freedom.
Libya is in one of the most dire situations right now. Libyans have suffered under Gaddafi’s tyranny for 42 years. As the longest running dictator in the Arab world, Gaddafi has ruled the nation with an iron fist. Please don’t be fooled by his perceived harmless, flamboyant dress or eccentric behavior. And Arabs, please don’t be bamboozled by his supposed anti-imperialist rhetoric and criticisms of Israel. His actions speak louder than his words.
Gaddafi’s regime has a poor record for human rights. He is responsible for the arbitrary arrest, torture and murder of countless prisoners, even without charge or trial. The judiciary is controlled by the regime, and there is no right to a fair public trial. The rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly, association and religion are restricted. Although Gaddafi pretends to be some sort of defender of the Palestinians, he ordered the ethnic cleansing of 30,000 Palestinian refugees from Libya. His criticisms of Israel are merely a way to deflect criticisms of his own regime. Gaddafi has maintained his rule by using his wealth, playing up the tribal loyalties in Libya and instilling fear in the population.
One of the most notable instances that occurred under Gaddafi’s rule was the 1996 massacre at Abu Salim prison, in which 1,200 prisoners were killed. Zero accountability, unanswered questions and Gaddafi’s refusal to prosecute those responsible for the massacre has created an even deeper resentment among the Libyan people toward his regime.
The Libyan “Day of Rage” was expected to take place on February 17, and it did; however, protests started a couple days ahead of schedule. The pre-party was attended by the Committee of the Families of the Victims of the Abu Salim Massacre, who were outraged at the arrest of Fathi Terbil. Terbil is a Libyan attorney and human rights activist who represents families of those who were massacred at Abu Salim. By February 17, protests engulfed the entire country in all major cities and towns.
Gaddafi’s crackdown on protesters has been insanely brutal. The latest confirmed death toll amounts to at least 120 Libyans killed by Security Forces since protests began, including women and children. Additionally, 1,000 more Libyans have been injured. Many Libyan sources have claimed much higher numbers, the latest being over 200. This is a considerable amount of people, as the population in Libya is significantly less than the population of Egypt. African mercenaries have also been sent in to back up the Special Forces. Moreover, hospitals in Benghazi are calling for blood and medical supplies to help those who have been injured.
The media coverage on Libya has been quite disappointing, especially considering the abundant coverage of the Egyptian revolution. Gaddafi is using the same tactics as Mubarak by sporadically shutting down phone and internet. Although Mubarak shut down mobile devices and the internet to quell the protests and media attention, at least foreign journalists had more freedom to report on the situation. In Libya, foreign journalists are prohibited from entering the country.
The regime is also cracking down hard on those who have been trying to reach out to the media. Brave people like Moftah (featured on CNN), have called and spoken to the media despite risking their lives. The Libyan diaspora is also doing an incredible job and playing a vital role in communicating information and news from their friends and relatives in Libya through Facebook and Twitter.
The international community and political leaders have been largely silent on the issue of Libya. Mohamed el-Berqawy, an engineer in Benghazi, said in an interview with Al Jazeera English: “Where is the United Nations? Or did Gaddafi bribe them with his billions of dollars? Where is Obama? Where is the rest of the world?”
Fortunately, Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague has condemned the “unacceptable and horrifying” use of violence by Gaddafi’s security forces against his own people. But neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton have issued any statements asking for the Libyan government to practice restraint, as they have done with Mubarak.
Why have American politicians remained silent? The U.S. and Libya reestablished a diplomatic relationship only a couple years ago. But Libya has an abundant amount of oil and gas. Gaddafi has also been an outspoken opponent of “Islamists,” and U.S. and Libyan intelligence have had information-sharing sessions on a regular basis as part of the “War on Terror.” These facts make me think that maybe el-Berqawy is onto something.
Shirien D. is a Palestinian-American activist, writer, and sociology graduate student at DePaul University in Chicago. She is the founder of Yansoon, a blog featuring news and analysis on Arab issues.