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Middle East: Revolutionary Breeze Blowing from Cairo to Benghazi

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011 and Egypt Protests 2011.

From a geographical point of view, Libya is right next to the Egyptian western borders. And from a historical point of view, its on-going revolution seems to be the one that will succeed right after the Egyptian one in toppling a decades-old regime. The brutality of Gaddafi and his regime in Libya forced the Egyptian bloggers, with support from the community, to call for collecting donations and humanitarian and medical aid and carry them over the border to the Libyans.

Tarek Shalaby in LibyaTarek Shalaby, on his trip to Libya,

Photo taken by Ali Azmy

Tarek Shalaby shared the details of his trip to Libya on Twitter. He and those who accompanied him also shared the photos, and videos they took during their trip. It all started when Tarek announced the plan to go to the city Salloum, which is near the Egyptian borders with Libya, for anyone who'd like to donate or even join them on February 23. They then announced that they will gather first at Mostafa Mahmoud mosque in Cairo for people to meet them there.

Donations to Libya being collected in CairoDonations to Libya being collected in Cairo.

Photo taken by Ali Azmy

The following day, Tarek tweeted:

@tarekshalaby: Alright everyone, preliminary Game Plan: Meet at Mostafa Mahmoud before 3pm to collect/pack all donations and take off to Salloum. #Feb17
@tarekshalaby: Tomorrow's crew heading to Salloum includes [Ali Azmy] @Eskalob and [Adel Abdel-Ghafar] @dooolism. There might be 1 more. Details to follow…

According to the post Ali Azmy wrote later on in his blog, they succeeded in collecting around 40,000 Egyptian pounds within 24 hours, to buy medicine with them. Also, later on in Salloum they found at least 25 pick-ups loaded with medical aid donated by Orascom and coordinated by the Arab Medical Union, and a long line of at least 250 empty micro-buses waiting to get into Libya to bring the Egyptians there back home.

They then started their trip to Salloum, about 2 hours late than the scheduled time, they had some rest in the middle and took some photos, then they reached El-Alamein road where they caught up with the Arab Doctors’ convoy heading the same direction. And finally, they reached Salloum at 2:00 AM on February 25 – about 10 hours after they started their trip. They reached the border about an hour later on, but it came out that they had to spend the night in their cars as they could not cross the border till the morning.

@tarekshalaby: Got to the border and the military personnel told us that crossing isn't open till tom morning at 9. Don't know if it will be easy to enter.

In the morning they continued their trip. Ali Azmy wrote about that part of the trip till they entered Libya, and how he wishes the borders between the Arab countries remain open in the future with no need for visas and passports.

We met someone that could help bring the medicine inside to trusted people in order to be sure would bring it to the most needed places and won’t keep it stored in some room and sell it later in the black market – which apparently happens. We went beyond the army checkpoint on the borders with the excuse of dropping off the medicine and coming back. We successfully convinced him that we needed 7 people to make the drop off. At that point me, Hassan [@htoukhy] and Baroudi [@m_baroudi] didn’t have our passports (smart huh! Mainly my fault though) Tarek didn’t have his army permission, luckily 50 pounds and the chaos took care of all this. I hope this will not be the only time for me to pass borders with my ID.

The border was filled with people from different nationalities who were fleeing Libya. They served as Tarek Shalaby and his friends’ exchange bureau since they all wanted to get rid of Libyan money and get Egyptian pounds, and a Ghanaian called Agogo also sold them a Libyan phone SIM card at the border.

Welcoming Jan25 youth in LibyaA welcoming sign for those entering Libya. It says “Wishing a safe trip to the youth of January 25 revolutions, in reference to the revolution that took place in Egypt a month earlier”.

Take from Tarek Shalaby's Flickr account under Creative Commons license

The ride to Libyan city of Tobroq was smooth, the city was peaceful, and the Libyans were extremely welcoming and generous with them. In fact, the Libyans generosity seems to be a pan-Arabian attitude to me after seeing this video [Ar] of Tunisians offering endless aid to the Egyptians who fled from the western part of Libya to Tunisia.

@tarekshalaby: Not only did the drivers not accept money for gas nor tips, @dooolism says the grocery wouldn't take money for the water & juice.
@tarekshalaby: I'm proud to be an Arab. Very proud.

The plan then was to stay in Tobroq for the night and head out to Benghazi the next day. They stayed in in Hostel called Maseera, which Tarek described as a luxurious one. Once more, the Libyan owner of the hostel refused to take any money from them.

@tarekshalaby: Even the hotel owners are giving up rooms for free to anyone helping with the revolution #Libya

On February 26, the group headed to Benghazi.

@tarekshalaby: Arrived at the main hospital in Ben Ghazi (renamed Martyr's Hospital). To say we've received a hero's welcome is an understatement. #Libya

The similarities between the different revolutions in Arab world was clearly seen. Almost the same people demonstrating in similar squares and taking care of the daily life tasks that were normally done by the regime and its forces.

@tarekshalaby: We're at the equivalent of Tahrir Sqaure in Ben Ghazi. Those who say Arabs are too different to unite are full of shit.
@tarekshalaby: Huge tank with graffiti and loads of kids — just like Tahrir! Sigh. The beautiful memories! #Jan25 #Feb17
Libya: Kids playing on a tankLibyan kids playing on a tank in one of the squares of Benghazi

Photo taken from Tarek Shalaby's profile under Creative Commons license

@tarekshalaby: Citizens organizing traffic. Haven't seen damage yet, and life seems perfectly normal…

Ali Azmy wrote about doctors they met there who they have also seen in Egypt earlier.

In Benghazi they met a doctor who was one of the field doctors in Tahrir and now she moved to Libya. We met also Dina, a friend of ours that was one of the field doctors in Tahrir, she has arrived the day before to Benghazi.

Tarek Shalaby and his friends continued to tour the city. They witnessed the protesters there celebrating under the rain. They also witnessed banners being drawn, and memorials being built for the martyrs. Just like the rest of volunteers there, they all were waiting for the chance to go to Tripoli, but Tripoli isn't liberated yet and safety is not confirmed. They waited and waited, but it seemed that it wasn't possible to continue their trip towards Tripoli.

On February 27, the team headed back home.

@tarekshalaby: So we're heading back to Egypt. Up until the last minute I had hope of going to Tripoli. Extremely disappointed it's not going to happen.
@tarekshalaby: Driving through a road with trees on either side and green plains leading to a rainbow. Beautiful Libya
Libyans waving their flag by the seaLibyans waving their flag by the coast of Benghazi

Photo taken by Tarek Shalaby under Creative Commons license

On their way back, Ali was busy asking himself, “When is the right time for intervention and what kind of intervention should it be?”

A lot of the people we met refused international intervention fearing its consequences, others asking for someone – anyone – to stop these massacres. But what is our role now? should we pressure for intervention? or send more medical aid and doctors? I couldn’t decide. Is there a magic number of how many people should be mass murdered before we intervene? At the same time I was hearing that each city was training and sending troops to Tripoli to continue the fight, I hope its a matter of days. But knowing more lives will be lost until the lunatic is out of power is painful. I guess its inevitable when people reach the point that the revolution turns into a war for survival and that people know that they will have to either die fighting for their freedom from oppressors or live to celebrate this new life. I guess now we have to respect their will to finish their mission all alone.

He then continued that he might find himself writing more posts about their trip in the future.

So this is officially my first actual blog post, it was only the timeline of the events, probably I’ll write another about my opinions on the Libyan revolution, differences between both revolutions. Hopefully by then the Libyan people would have gained their whole country back.

Finally, and after seeing the note written by Muhammad Ghafari [Ar] about the similar trip he had in support to the Libyans, I believe we have to be thankful to people like Shalaby, Azmy and Ghafari for sharing their stories especially with the poor coverage the situation in Libya is receiving in mainstream media.

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011 and Egypt Protests 2011.

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