The current situation in Libya has become one of both triumph and tragedy. In the east of the country, the opposition seems to be firmly in control. In Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, life is heading in the direction of normal. Newspapers are functioning, pizza parlors are open and delivering, and there are reports of calm promenades near the city’s waterfront. It is in this newfound peace that anti-Gaddafi opposition recruits are banding together and training their own armies. That said, a number of remnants from the recent battles dot the streets. Tanks stand empty, like ghosts of the regime, and anti-government messages cover a number of walls. Secret underground prisons stand with doors open, and old government holdouts have been completely sacked.
In other Eastern cities such as Tobruk, Brega, Ajdabiya, Bayda and Damah, opposition forces remain firmly in control. These cities also surround many of the country’s oil fields. Although there have been no reports of damage to them as of writing, bombings near Brega and a number of other incursions near smaller villages could easily disrupt the flow of oil. This seems to be the main worry of many of the world’s powers. While the U.N. has suspended Libya’s involvement with their human rights commission (even though it’s laughable to consider they were ever part of it in the first place), the main talk of intervention and peace seems to revolve around just how close the gunpowder is getting to the oil wells.
Meanwhile, in the west of the country, almost 85,000 Libyans have fled over the border into Tunisia, which is still a shaken state from their own Jasmine Revolution. In cities surrounding Tripoli such as Misrata, Zawiya and Sabratha, there has been fierce fighting between the opposition and the military and militia men (many of whom have been flown in from Sub-Saharan African countries). The arrival of these militia men has caused incredible uproar in the international community and sparked a number of race-related issues within Libya. However, the situation may not be that easy to pin down. One eyewitness report near Brega mentioned seeing a Nigerian teenager in tears. He told of being promised a job in Libya, flown in and handed a gun upon arrival. Told to shoot, and threatened with court and jail if he refused, he had been recently captured by opposition forces, with his current fate unknown.
In addition to such cases, Libya is a place that has normally welcomed migrant workers from other parts of the continent. Those same black workers, who have had no part in the current unrest, are now fleeing for their lives lest they be mistaken for one of Gaddafi’s contracted militia men. Many who have made it into Tunisia tell of having to travel by night to avoid detection and close calls with angry mobs.
So, what about the country’s capitol Tripoli? Well, that still seems to be one of the major strongholds under Gaddafi’s control. It is there that doctors still report seeing a number of gunshot wound victims. Government thugs are reportedly going door-to-door, usually at night, to arrest anybody who could possibly have been part of the protests. While uprisings still exist in parts of the city, other areas have lost any sign of life. Families have fled the area and nobody is quite sure who to trust. Neighbors are being pitted against each other with stipends from the government and crackdowns are expected during Friday protests.
In a recent interview Gaddafi sounded even more unhinged then he usually does. He pointed to drugs and terrorism in the region for the uprising. His son, Saif, remained as indignant as ever, posed to follow his father’s footsteps of self-disillusionment and eventual overthrow. It’s hard to say where this family will end up. Most countries are hesitant to so much as talk to Libyan leaders let alone offer respite in their countries. Even the normally quiet White House made no bones about their view of the situation with Barack Obama stating that, “We will continue to send a clear message: the violence must stop, Muammar Gaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead, and he must leave. Those who perpetrate violence against the Libyan people will be held accountable. The aspirations of the Libyan people for freedom, democracy, and dignity must be met.”
Much like Egypt, it seems that we are now just waiting on a leader to realize his end has come. When and how that will be pushed through is unknown, but for the sake of the Libyans in Tripoli and other cities that have suffered extensive fighting, it’s imperative this happens soon. Oil, access, and mounting international pressure will all play different roles in the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, most reporting from inside the country is still tightly controlled and nearly nonexistent. This means it is crucial that we not forget what is going on. Libyans are still dealing with air strikes, armed militants, and mass arrests. If we turn our attention away at this crucial moment, the suffering of the Libyan people could be tremendous. In a country that has seen forty years of brutal dictatorship, torture and oppression, it finally seems there is an end in sight. With focus from the international community, peace could come sooner rather than later. Stay tuned.