Libya Tribune

By Paul Armstrong and Nick Thompson

Exactly five years ago, grainy video aired across Arabic satellite networks showing a disheveled man, his face and clothes matted with blood, being dragged from a drain where he’d been hiding.

The footage then shows him lying on the ground before being lifted on to a truck.All around him, gunmen fire their guns in the air in jubilation.

But then all hell breaks loose.

Shots are exchanged between two groups of men and the slumped figure on the truck is fatally wounded.

The man in question is Moammar Gadhafi, the former dictator of Libya, and these were his final moments after he’d been captured in his home city of Sirte by forces loyal to the new interim government.

It was a grotesque and inglorious end for a man who had enjoyed absolute power since 1969, and who referred to himself as Africa’s “king of kings.”

But it was also the symbolic end of an authoritarian — and often brutal — regime, a seismic event that would bring hope as well as new fears for the future of Libya.

Fast forward five years, CNN spoke to ordinary Libyans across the country about the moment they heard Gadhafi had died.


Zakariya Ezaidi, Tripoli

Where were you the day Gadhafi died?

I was in Tripoli that day. I’d been invited to teach a group of scouts at a camp located within a large park that belonged to a government ministry. We’d gone to get food for the scouts at a local store when I saw the news on TV. Everyone was shouting with joy — though some didn’t appear to believe it. Many were in shock.

I doubted it myself at first until I saw the photos.

As we hurried back to the camp, we saw people in the park firing their weapons in the air in joy. The long-awaited news had finally come and bullets were falling all around us.

For me, this was a memorable day for two reasons: First, the death of Gadhafi. Second, it was the first time in my life I’d be able to sing the national anthem in front of a new flag. I don’t remember if I tried to call anyone at the time. I can only recall glimpses of this incredible time.

I recall the scouts wanting to return home quickly to celebrate in the streets. It was such a huge feeling being able to run around waving flags and shouting “Libya is free!” Everyone was smiling and offering sweets to each other. Everyone was living in the moment — leaving the future until later.

How do you feel about Libya and Gadhafi five years on?

Gadhafi was a bad thing for Libya.

Libya after the death of Gadhafi could be compared to someone with an addiction to smoking suddenly being forced to quit: It doesn’t come around without a headache but it’s a necessary step to avoid getting cancer. But to stop smoking all of a sudden without proper treatment could also make things worse. I believe this is what happened in Libya — we never had a plan.

Libya faces many problems now but I know things would be worse with Gadhafi and his regime in place.

The capital, Tripoli, has been relatively stable since Gadhafi’s fall because most of the fighting was elsewhere. Most young people here are educated and all look to make a difference in a civilized way — not with weapons. Although, the armed militias that were here — many were warriors who fought Gadhafi’s regime — did make things harder. They needed rehabilitation but none was given.


Yousra Al-Fazzani, Benghazi

Where were you the day Gaddafi died?

I remember waking up and seeing the news on TV. I was surprised and shocked. I saw him being beaten to death on screen and couldn’t understand what was happening.

The barbaric video of Gadhafi made me open my eyes wide — the scene was grotesque. In the end, he was the president of state.

I spent several minutes thinking about what happened — asking whether it was right or wrong? I also thought at first that the video was fabricated. But then it sank in. I talked with my parents and about what happened, especially about what was next for the country.

All around us, people were celebrating in the streets — beeping car horns, shooting guns in the air. The atmosphere was similar to the beginning of the revolution when everyone cheered the end of Gadhafi’s rule.

How do you feel about Libya and Gadhafi five years on?

Is Libya better now? If we speak about the system and state institutions, then no.

In terms of openness and freedom of speech — and despite today’s many problems — Libya is better without him.

For me personally, Libya is a much better place. I could not work as a radio broadcaster before the revolution, for example. This profession was the preserve of a few people close to Gadhafi and his people.

Benghazi itself has gone through periods of fluctuation. The best period in the city was the time of the revolution itself — the atmosphere was great and people seemed as one. In the beginning, the situation seemed good in terms of the economy and security — even politically. For the first time we had the opportunity for elections and democracy and freedom of expression. But then the assassinations, bombings and kidnappings started after the Islamists took control of the city.

I was very concerned that they’d impose their sharia laws on us — I felt sad for the revolution. But then the army re-took the city and got rid of these Islamists. Once again I felt proud of the revolution.

I’m very optimistic about the future. Benghazi today is ten times better than before — even the parliament and the government have begun to return to the city because they know it’s a safer place now.


Osama al-Fitori, Sirte

Where were you the day Gaddafi died?

He was always there, you know. I have my parents, my brothers, my home, and Gadhafi. He was part of my life. He was like a god here in his hometown.

I remember the day he died very well. I was in Sirte working on a story with Human Rights Watch about mass graves when I heard shooting in the air. One of our drivers told us he heard a rumor that Gadhafi had been killed, but I’d heard that before so I didn’t believe it at first.

The men who killed Gadhafi in Sirte had taken his body to a field hospital on the west of the city. But by the time we got there, doctors said his body had been moved to the city of Misrata. At that moment I called my family to tell them the news. My dad kept asking “are you sure? Are you sure?” I told him I was 100% sure but I wanted to see the body myself.

We drove behind the convoy from Sirte to Misrata but couldn’t get to him. The situation was chaotic — people were crowding around the ambulance, beating Gadhafi’s dead body, shooting in the air, taking pictures on their phones.

Everyone wanted to see the body. I didn’t want to see him as a journalist, I wanted to see him as an ordinary Libyan.

The next morning, we made our way to a vegetable market in Misrata. I told the militia guarding the place that we were with Human Rights Watch and needed to see the body, so they let us in quietly.

He was laid out on an old mattress inside a refrigerator. My first thought was that he seemed shorter than I thought he’d be. He only covered two thirds of the mattress. I had never seen him except on TV until that day.

The first thing I asked myself was is it over now? Everything we’ve done is because of this man, and now he’s gone. Has the dream come true?’

How do you feel about Libya and Gadhafi five years on?

In 2011, Sirte was all about revenge. The rebels tortured and executed people, burned their houses and bombed the city. After the revolution, there were so many checkpoints manned by people from Misrata, who arrested people not for committing crimes but because they were from Sirte — detained them for what was written on their IDs.

Sirte was broken. Its citizens didn’t have guns, militia, or police, so it was the easiest place for ISIS to show up — the people had no other option. I heard that many local people joined ISIS. They weren’t even conservative or religious. Many joined just to take revenge on the Misratis, and they knew that ISIS would attack Misrata at some point.

People also told me that life under ISIS was better than life under the revolutionaries. At least with ISIS you know the rules: No smoking in public, no playing music — it’s fine. And if stopped at a checkpoint they won’t arrest you or harass you in front of your wife because you’re from Sirte.

Now there’s another war in Sirte. The Misrati militias are backed by American air power. In trying to take out ISIS in Sirte, the Americans are making the same mistake they made then. During the revolution I appreciated what the West did for us — using their air power to go after Gadhafi. But the war created the militias, it created extremists like ISIS and al Qaeda.

The West in general, especially the Americans, don’t care what happens in Libya — they just want to fight ISIS. Their enemy is ISIS, but our enemy is all of these groups.


Mohammed Shakshaka, Misrata

Where were you the day Gaddafi died?

I was part of a checkpoint “detail” with about 14 to 15 other guys when news of his death came through on our walkie-talkies. I felt like anyone who is suddenly released after being suffocated and imprisoned — I felt free.

My family had also heard the news over (the) radio. They’d been waiting for this moment. Everyone was happy and celebrating.

There was a street party in the main square and some 20 camels had been sacrificed — the meat handed out to everyone in the streets.

I had good reason to celebrate personally: I’d been imprisoned for a week in 2005 because I’d insulted some government officials or doctors when my sister was sick in hospital. There was no such thing as freedom of speech before Gadhafi’s fall. Everyone was afraid to say how they felt.

How do you feel about Libya and Gadhafi five years on?

Things are better but the people need to take care of our country better. Everyone is looking out for themselves now and highly selfish.

It’s now a country without a government, so they need to put the right people in place.

My assessment after five years? It’s not as good as I would have liked it to be but it’s okay.

Positives are that wages are better and there is more of a chance to create your own opportunities in business, which you could never do before. But many things have become a lot more expensive.

We’ve also seen a massive proliferation of weapons. Every house and car seems to contain guns. The hardest group to control are the kids born in the 1990s, who are drinking alcohol, smoking hash and popping pills. You get worried when there are weapons everywhere.


Cable News Network

Leave a Reply