LIbya Tajoura, a rebellious town
June 25th, 2011

March 1, 2011

By: Caroline Poiron / Tripoli

For Der Spiegel

Translated by Alice Hackman

In the outskirts of Tripoli, terror rages these days. Its inhabitants are burying the dead. 

Today, it’s the case of Abdulhafid al-Musrathi, shot dead in the road after Friday prayers. Thousands of men came to the gravesite to present their condolences to his family. Men cry. The presence of journalists does not appease their anger. "
Ghaddafi out!” they repeat incessantly. 

They soon find themselves in the main square, where they cry out their distress. The Libyan flag flies up above the destroyed portrait of their leader. A few hundreds people have gathered and clearly show their support for the revolution that has already gained ground in the east. "Free Libya” and "Yes we can” are only some of the slogans graffitied on the walls around the square.

The youth become animated when they see the journalists arrive. They rush to tell them that Qhaddafi "would be much better off in his grave.” They dance around the cameras, shouting with joy, without worrying what will happen once night falls. With no regard to each other, the inhabitants talk. 

An old man approaches me to say that he is worried. His son disappeared three days ago. He has not heard any news and he is scared. He wants to know the truth. "My son has disappeared,” he says.

Another man, Azud, approaches me: "My best friend was taken away last night by the police. They came in 15 cars to his house. They took him away by force, hitting him. They asked who he had called and why. He turned up again two days later by chance, having been helped by the government. But I ask you, who from the government got him out? Why did the government let him out and not the others? People have disappeared. Where are they?”

A woman was shot in the head and killed while she was at home alone. "They even kill the women! We are not terrorists, we are not Al Qaeda!” he cries. 

Worry settles. Terror reigns.

Since the age of 42, Moammar al-
Ghaddafi had reigned in Lybia with an iron fist. Now, after the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, Libya is ablaze. The uprising started on February 17, on the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, but only reached the town of Tajura in the district of Tripoli a few days later.

"There have been at least 20 dead and 300 who have disappeared,” says Mohammed, a young blogger who I meet in the city square. "The wounded who were evacuated to hospital were killed or taken somewhere and we still don’t know where. Nobody knows where they are.”

The hospital has been the target of shooting. Doctors are said to have fled the scene scared that they would be killed. Instead, they treat patients in their homes in secret. 

Azud adds: "I wanted to go and give blood at the hospital because they had run out. The police raided the hospital. There was blood missing. They stopped us from approaching.”

During this improvised gathering, cars continued to circulate. One of them, with a portrait of Moammar Ghaddafi on the windscreen, is stopped. The crowd surrounds the car. Anger is fast to brew among the revolutionaries. They rip off the portrait and insult the frightened driver. But before they can take his car, he flees as full speed. 

Ghaddafi’s portrait will be burnt and trodden on by the crowd.

On the main square, at dusk, the crowd rapidly disperses after the journalists leave. One by one, they scatter. At the roundabout near the edge of the town, the police wait, ready to intervene at nightfall. It’s their time for action now. Security force cars patrol the neighborhood of Tajura. Inhabitants stay inside, scared that if they go out they be killed.

Some leave me their telephone numbers. I gather photos on memory cards that are discreetly slipped into my hand before the square empties. Text messages are blocked by the government so it’s with Skype, and with many phone calls, that I make appointments for the next day.

When I arrive the next morning, the square of Tajura has become pro-Ghaddafi again. His green flag has replaced the Libyan flag.The walls have been repainted, yesterday’s graffiti sloppily brushed over with red or green paint, as if to erase all signs of a revolt. The men of the popular committees affiliated to the state organize themselves to silence the protesters.

On their side, the Ghaddafi regime is using text messages. They inform the population via text that they are allowed 500 dinars each, and the queues at the booths are never-ending. The Libyan leader’s regime is trying to buy itself back into favor.

In front of the mosque, an old man approaches me. "My son is wounded. He is at home.” He wants to take me to see him. Very soon, we see two cars following us. The man becomes scared, and breathes with increasing difficulty. The guardians of the roads, informers in civilian clothes, are everywhere to report any gatherings and to stop journalists from recording accounts of the repression. We will not be able to talk to his wounded son. At a street corner, the old man throws himself of the car. He flees, disappearing out of our sight. Ghaddafi’s regime is nowhere near falling yet.

Leaving Tajura, I see Azud and his friends again. They are gathered around a group of journalists and call us. "Are you scared of us? You can trust us. We are normal people. We only want our freedom. We are not scared to talk to you.We are not doing anything bad by talking to you. We are not scared of bullets either. We don’t have any weapons. We are only scared of one thing: not to be able to free our country. We have to stay discreet. Come back tomorrow, alone without your Libyan chauffeur, and we will show you everything, the whole truth.”

Far away from Benghazi, Tajura is still in the hands of the regime.


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