Libya 2011: A Seminal Year Through Citizen Media

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

In January 2011, while Egypt was going through the throes of the Arab Spring, Highlander was one of the rare netizens on the Libyan blogosphere to subtly speculate if the ‘West’ would allow former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to be toppled by what was increasingly looking like a no going back popular revolution.

She blogged:

Leave Mubarak alone as he is keeping us safe we don't really care about anybody or anything else :P

It was as far as one could get into, in a Libya under Muammar Gaddafi's strong rule.

By February, Libya was engulfed in it’s own uprising. The feeling before Tripoli was crushed was that anything was possible; so some bloggers ventured into bolder territory either reporting directly about what was happening, for example the battle for survival going on in Benghazi and how all cities had begun to rise with the sense of urgency so well expressed by PH:

• Libyanna ( mobile company ) sent a message to all the citizens of Benghazi telling them to go home; as it is their job to defend Benghazi.
• Weapons and soldiers arrived from Bieda and its surrounding area.
• The 64th battalion and Abdulfath Younis's ( عبدالفتاح يونس) special forces battalion attacking the main revolutionary guard garrison in Benghazi ( الفضيل بوعمر). Fighting is ongoing.
• General Population of Benghazi arming up with everything in their grasp.
• People chanting Muammer here we come for you, death is coming.
• Crowds are larger than ever seen ( they were nearly 100,000 ) three days ago.
• Helicopter shot down by the people of Benghazi.

And the more ‘Morse’ code like missive by Khaijateri about Gaddafi’s infamous and terrifying Zenga Zenga speech, where we were all called rats – and addicts:

We watched, we snacked. We had mixed feelings: disbelief, horror, amazement, among other feelings, but mostly just disgust.

March was immortalised by the burning the Green Book, which contains Gaddafi's governing philosophy, as Anglo-Libyan said:

For the first time in my life I agree with the burning of a book, the idiotic green book of Gaddafi the murderer, the brave people of the city of Misrata stand as one and send a message to gaddafi, until when this mad dictator is going to claim that these brave people are drunks and drug addicts![sic]

The Internet was cut in March and our voices were silenced except for those who had Thuraya phones or VSAT connections. This meant that we relied on smuggled videos broadcast on Arab satellite TVs. City after city was muzzled and Libyans outside the country or those in the liberated East took it upon themselves to amplify our voices while the rest of Libya was waiting for the no fly zone.

Whiteafrican, in Manchester, UK, said:

i am so proud of the Libyan men, they have proven to the world that they are indeed lions of the dessert, the men of benghazi, bayda, derna, tobrok, breyga, ras lanuf, ajdabeeya, the men of zawia, zintan and misrata.

standing in only their sandals and in many cases, there fists in front of tanks, missiles, RPG's and the latest in weapons, so that Libya will be free is courageous and this courage has not been seen in a long time.[sic]

Meanwhile Ruwida Ashour pleaded in Benghazi:

i cant write more words & what has happened & happening now in Libya is unbelievable ………………please support Libyans with any thing you could do even with just a smile , profile picture or any thing ………we still have money but we need moral support .[sic]

This is also the month when Eman Al Obaidi escaped her rapists and a worldwide petition was started to bring attention to her plight. It was the month of the late Hannu’s last post too.

The Libyan blogosphere will miss Hannu very much as her humour and honesty were a role model.

In April, while the NATO bombing campaign was continuing, Libyans were being traumatised by the alleged mass rape stories which were coming out and many like Soad were trying to share their desperation with the world:

Young girls and women, who were virgins, were subjected to brutal gang rape and torture; many of the incidents were filmed on mobile phones and were circulated to increase the humiliation of these victims and their families. Many victims were infected with HIV and some got pregnant; it is a huge problem and needs to be tackled head-on, no beating around the bush.

As spring turned to summer, we had the siege of Misrata and the ongoing fighting in the Western Mountains. We had the back and front battles for the coastal oil towns of Brega, Ajdabia and Ras Lanuf; and we had the fear that Libya will be partitioned and the increasing numbers of internally and externally displaced Libyan families. This is so hauntingly evoked by Noureddin [ar] when he is packing to leave in May:

وبدأت أعدّ للرحيل.
أفرز أوراقي: وثائق قانونية وتاريخية، وأسرية تعود لثلاثة أجيال وأكثر.. ومقتنيات لبعضها قيمته المادية ولبعضها الأخر قيمته المعنوية.. بعضٌ من الذاكرة.. بعضٌ مني سأودعه عند عزيز وسأصطحب من البعض الأخر ما أمكن… وسأترك ورائي ما أتركه وديعةً عند ربي… وزرت الأهل والأصحاب مودعا.
I’m packing and preparing to leave. Sorting out my papers, legal, historical and family documents that go back three generations and more. I’m scrutinising my worldly belongings, some of material value but others of sentimental value as they hold dear memories. I leave some with friends and try to take with me whatever I can. The rest I will leave in the care of God just as I will leave family and friends and say goodbye.

Lebeeya’s post in June aptly entitled Freedom, embodied our dreams in a war that had been dragging on for months.

Meanwhile, in July, pro–Gaddafi electronic teams are also not silent and since this is a war all is fair and their bloggers on SOS Libya were telling a story that made me feel on another planet. Here is a sample post:

NATO is not bombing the rebels in the East. NATO is working for the rebels.People don’t dare complain about the rebels. They are scared for their lives and their family lives. We have met many people who have escaped these place with their lives, but most don’t want their names out because they have family left there and if they show their face or publicly speak about the rebel atrocities then the members of their families that are left will be killed. We know this from first hand, one of our group had this exact problem and could not be filmed, his father called him and said the rebels saw him on TV and if he spoke out one more time against them they would kill his brother one by one and then begin with his other family members.[…]
we have never heard of oppression by Ghadafi, the people have great respect and love for him. They all wear green and wear photos of him around their necks, believe me the Western news is so far from the truth they are on another planet.
We have never seen anybody beaten, harassed, in prison, in fact we have been days and never even seen a policeman.[sic]

With the fighting continuing, Brega changed hands every 24 hrs and the death of the rebel General Abdulfattah Younis, the hope for an end to the war was fading and this is what blogger Hana S tried to explain:

Last Saturday I dreamt that Libya was finally liberated. In the dream, it was a Friday and a Friday that preceded the beginning of Ramadan. Get it? Ramadan this year is either this coming weekend or the beginning of next week. And this Friday is the last one before the holy month!

I woke up excited and full of hope. It felt great in the dream. How would it be like in real life!?

As the days of July dragged on, Tripoli was getting more and more restless and people were all thinking that the final showdown was going to be brutal. Fears were running high about what will exactly happen thoughts of genocide such like the ones expressed by Displaced Libyan were not too far:

It was going to be literally the ‘wild west’ with everyone with a grudge and their brother participating in a mess that would take years and hundreds of thousands of lives, refugees and billions of losses. Basically the image in my head was a bloodbath from which I could not see any exit.

All the patience and suffering in Tripoli culminated in August during the long awaited second uprising and operation Mermaid Dawn. After all the agonizing moments, the lighting liberation of Tripoli was short of miraculous and with Internet restored Violet sighed with relief :

it is beautiful to see how much change there has been in the Libyan psyche, the wall of fear has been broken. Freedom is priceless.

Libyans were euphoric at the liberation of their capital Tripoli even though Gaddafi had fled. The celebration continued for weeks despite the war still raging on other fronts. Meanwhile, for the first time in months, media was covering the majority of Libyan territories, help associations were coming in and the rest of the country was catching up with their Eastern brothers and by September, blogs were shifting to reporting more on life returning to normal. On the Edge was just pleased to find pizza again:

Fast food is making it's appearance again around town in Tripoli. Moe and I went to a little mall on Friday. We hadn't gone there since before Ramadan. We found a coffee cafe open that had been closed. They had cheese cake, pastries, the best Italian coffee , and best of all for me , PIZZA'S! OMG !!! Fully loaded with all sorts of yummy stuff.

In October, many of the resisting cities started falling and the highlight of that month for Libya and the world was the death of Gaddafi. The most evocative post illustrating this was NassimLibya [ar] who said:

صباحك بلا حصون بلا خطوط حمراء
.بلا جنون بلا نبى الصحراء
الله أكبر الله أكبر الله أكبر

A morning without walls, without red lines
without craziness and without desert prophets,
God is great, God is great, God is great.

With Gaddafi and his son Mutassim dead, Sirte fell and the liberation of all the Libyan territory was declared three days later on 23 October.

In November, the Libyans had another stroke of luck with the capture of Saif Al Islam Gaddafi alive.

Again Lebeeya's post about this event summarized what most of the people felt:

Saif's capture is equivalent to removing the last disease in the country. I hope the handful of Gaddafi loyalists in the country snap out of their bubble and join hands with everyone else for a better Libya. Inshallah (By the will of God) the fitna stops after this.
My thoughts on Saif's cut fingers: although Reuters confirms that he lost his fingers from a previous injury a month ago. I hope that's just a cover story for what really happened! The thuwar (rebels) found him and chopped his fingers off slowly and painfully!

By now all Libya was one country once again, the phone lines between East and West were restored, the banking system and other systems were reunited, the interim government had moved mostly to Tripoli. Thus Libyans ended what had been a tumultuous year by celebrating on 24 December the historical Independence Day. Happymoi could not help reminding the readers that

It is a day that has been suppressed by the former regime for so long. It just feels good to say happy independence day Libya!

It is a suitable conclusion to an unusual year: 2011 …. awaiting Libyans was a long arduous road to rebuild the country and to build democracy at the same time. Mistakes are expected but 2012 was sure to prove interesting with all these challenges.

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

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