So it’s 12.30 at night and I can’t sleep – not because of the usual reasons: traffic , insomnia, noisy neighbours, but because there is a guy outside shouting very angrily and he has been there ever since he fired his AK47 off into the kebab shop opposite my hotel 30 minutes ago, and I’m trying to remember if the doors to my hotel are glass or not.
In case you’re wondering I’m not in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire where the only thing one has to worry about is whether someone is going to steal your parking space or not , I’m in Tripoli, Libya where there’s a lot more to be worried about. ( Ok so it’s gone very quiet now – or has it? No there’s shooting still but not immediately outside).
The thing is about this town and country is that at times, it can feel deceptively charming, peaceful even. In day time Tripoli, there is a feel in places, especially near me in Martyr Square, of a bustling, sophisticated metropolis. People are friendly, they want to tell their stories, there is shopping and café living. But there is a dark and angry flip side, a violence that is there, just beneath the surface.
According to the quietly spoken hotel concierge, the man with the gun was drunk and trying to catch/kill the guy in the kebab shop for whatever reason. And there are many possible reasons: he could have been a pro-Gadaffi secret policeman hiding his murderous past, or maybe he served him a dodgy kebab and gave him a stomach upset.
When every man has a gun (thank God, including the quietly spoken concierge) then things like this will happen, as I am frequently told. Anyway the military are here now so I think that’s good.
It is worth pointing out however that this a country of extremes, and where there are stories of violence there are also stories of courage and strength. Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting some (15 actually) of the Tajoura female resistance – charming and elegant, as they are brave. (The shooting is starting again, great, brilliant! There’s a full scale gun battle outside my hotel , including automatic fire) . This was organized by the Tajoura media department ( no not the gun battle the line up of classy Libyan women) so I couldn’t help thinking it was a masterstroke in PR when I was introduced to 15 highly educated, rather beautiful, women of Tajoura who risked their lives during the Ghadaffi regime. They are female revolutionaries if you will.
There were lawyers, teachers, doctors and dentists. They told me that the simple act of distributing an anti Ghadaffi flyer ( or broadcasting an anti Ghadaffi video as they have done) would have meant arrest, and after arrest , they told me , would come torture ( the regime would want to see if they could extract information from you).
I wanted to come out to Libya to see for myself something of what was happening before and during the revolution and to see what kind of future there is for Libya. Can they wean themselves off the brutalitly of the iron fist of Ghadaffi, or will they be inspired by western influences and the calls of companies like Human Rights Watch to clean up their act? According to HRW, Libya recently “ has passed some shockingly bad laws, mimicking Qaddafi laws criminalizing political dissent and granting blanket immunity to any crimes committed in “support” of the revolution.” So that is not a good sign, and until they get some of these guns off the street things are going to be unstable at the very least for some time to come .
But still the women of Tajoura give me hope, and the strength of the family unit is inspiring as well. Families are close. This gave them the strength to rid them selves of Ghadaffi and also helped them show much restraint since. This country is dangerous but considering what has happened out here, some credit should be attributed to the fact the place is not shooting itself up like Iraq for example.
The shooting eventually stops ,and the following morning I discover what happened. The guy who came with a group of his mates had apparently been drinking ( this is fortunately quite rare as it’s illegal out here) . He was upset over an earlier detention and came to make a point . The owner of the kebab shop being high up in the military, had something to do with it so he decided to shoot his shop up, I don’t think there was an intention to harm, but it’s just the way it is out here right now – I need to make a point, how do I do it?
On the day I arrived my flight had been diverted as the the international airport had been closed down by a brigade from Tahouni doing pretty much the same thing. Well the elections are coming soon and we have to hope the influence of democracy will change this mind set.
On a positive note yesterday I saw the Tahouni group who earlier had closed down the airport with their anti-aircraft guns, protesting outside the police station , peacefully. Maybe things will move on quicker than expected.