Libya

الليبيون في تونس: التأرجح بين طيات النسيان والاعتراف

هل الجالية الليبية في تونس عبء أم فرصة اقتصادية؟

كلما حاول مرتضى ص (22 سنة) أن يمتطي سيارة تاكسي إلا وتعرض لعملية تحيل من سائق التاكسي وقد أصبحت هذه الوضعية المزعجة ملازمة لحياته اليومية في تونس العاصمة.

 

مرتضى شاب ليبي انتقل للسكن في العاصمة التونسية منذ سنتين مع عائلته وحاليا يدرس بجامعة خاصة. وقد حاول التأقلم مع الحياة السريعة والصاخبة نوعا ما للعاصمة وبالأخص مع النظام في العاصمة أين تحتل اللغة الفرنسية الحيز الأكبر من سبل التواصل الاجتماعي لسكان العاصمة خاصة في الأحياء الراقية مثل حي النصر والمرسى والبحيرة أين توجد جالية ليبية كبرة جعلت من العاصمة التونسية ملاذا لها للترفيه عن النفس بعيدا عن ضغوطات الأوضاع السياسية والأمنية في ليبيا خاصة بعد اندلاع الحرب الأهلية في صائفة 2014 بين مختلف الفصائل الليبية المتناحرة من تشكيلات مسلحة، نظامية وغير نظامية.

 

ويضيف مرتضى قائلا: “فكرت مليا في أن أبدأ دراسة الفرنسية في العاصمة. هل تعرفين مراكز أو مدارس تؤمن دروسا للمبتدئين مثلي؟ أنا أعرف بعض الكلمات لكن أرى أنني أستطيع التأقلم أكثر مع محيطي الجديد خاصة ع أصدقائي في الجامعة”

 

في غياب أرقام دقيقة لليبيين المتواجدين على التراب التونسي، تضاربت الأنباء حول أعدادهم بين الأرقام الرسمية التي قدمتها وزارة الشؤون الاجتماعية في بداية 2016 (و الذي قدره وزير الشؤون الاجتماعية السابق محمود  بن رمضان بحوالي 350000 ليبي مقيم في تونس) و غير الرسمية والذين يصل عددهم إلى حوالي 800000 ليبي بين مقيم (بصفة رسمية وغير رسمية)  ولاجئ (وهؤلاء عددهم لا يتجاوز 10000 لاجئ حسب بعض منظمات المجتمع المدني), أصبح مسألة الليبيين في تونس قضية مثيرة للجدل يتنازع حولها السياسيون و مختلف الممثلين والأطراف في المجتمع المدني. ومع تزايد تذمر الأغلبية من التونسيين خاصة في العاصمة التونسيين من تواجد الليبيين في تونس بسبب “مساهمتهم المباشرة وغير المباشرة في غلاء المعيشة وارتفاع أسعار العقارات” وجد الليبيون أنفسهم في ازدواجية الغربة والعزلة من جهة والنسيان وغياب الاعتراف من طرف الجهات الرسمية التونسية والليبية.

 

الليبيون في تونس: جدلية التوصيف القانوني.

 

يمثل الليبيون في تونس شريحة اجتماعية ذات خصوصية يصعب توصيفهم ك”لاجئين” بما أن الأغلبية القاطنة بتونس لم تبحث عن اللجوء القانوني في تونس كما هو الشأن مثلا للسوريين الذين فروا من أتون الحرب الأهلية و الذي يقدر عددهم ببضع آلاف و الذين تم تسجياهم كلاجئين سواء لدى منظمات الإغاثة العالمية أو السلطات التونسية  و من جهة أخرى لا يعتبر الليبيون مهاجرين بل إن حالتهم تتأرجح بين من هم في المنفى و اللجوء الاقتصادي بما أن الأغلبية شبه الساحقة منهم يعيلون أنفسهم و يساهمون بصفة مباشرة و غير مباشرة في الحركة الاقتصادية للبلاد. الكثير منهم يعيش وضعية “البرزخ” وكأنهم “تحت المراقبة” يفضلون أن يكونوا بعيدا عن الأنظار وخاصة السلطات التونسية الإعلام وتوجسهم منهم

يمكن تفسير هذا الاختيار غير الإرادي في كثير من الأحوال إلى تخوف البعض منهم من ترحيلهم إلى ليبيا بسب بعلاقتهم المباشرة أو غير المباشرة بنظام العقيد الراحل معمر القذافي ومنذ نشوب الحرب الأهلية بعد أحداث مطار طرابلس بسبب الانهيار الأمني والاقتصادي في البلد فلم يعد الليبيون يتوجهون إلى تونس بسبب صلتهم بالنظام القديم فحسب بل لأن الظروف السياسية والأمنية الصعبة دفعت بالكثير منهم إلى اللجوء لتونس ولو بصفة مؤقتة.

 

ثنائية التكيف والانعزال:

 

أما سهام ع فشعورها بالغربة في تونس زاد من عزلتها وصعوبة تكيفها مع المجتمع التونسي على الرغم من نجاحها في تكوين صداقات وشبكات تعارف مع التونسيين ولكنها تبقى محدودة في نطاق الجامعة أين تدرس إدارة الأعمال.

 

“على الرغم من أن والدي من أصول تونسية لكن أشعر ببعض العدائية من بعض التونسيين هنا” تضيف كما ترى أن بعض من التونسيين يستهينون بقدرات الليبيين ويظهرون عنصريتهم ضد كل ما هو ليبي من خلال إظهار كل ما هو سيء.

” يتهمون الليبيين بأنهم ساهموا في تأزم أوضاع بلدهم وبأنهم يؤثرون على زيادة الأسعار في تونس”

 

“كل مرة أستقل تاكسي يبدأ السائق في الحديث بطريقة سيئة عن ليبيا والليبيين وكيف أنهم أوصلوا بلادهم لهذه الحالة السيئة، ويؤلمني سماع هذا خاصة وأنه يأتي من بلد ديموقراطي كتونس” تستطرد سهام بنوع من السخط والحزن.

على الرغم من هذه العقبات استطاعت سهام التأقلم مع محيطها الجديد ونجحت في دراستها وحققت تميزا خاصا بنجاحها مؤخرا في امتحان المستوى الأول في اللغة الفرنسية بالمعهد الفرنسي بالعاصمة التونسية. كما لاحظت أنّ وجودها بتونس أثر في محيطها خاصة أصدقاءها بالجامعة إذ غيّروا نظرتهم النمطية عن ليبيا وأصبحوا يحبون الليبيين من خلال احتكاكهم بليبيين متعلمين حسب قولها.

 

مصائب قوم عند قوم فوائد:

 

لقد أصبح الليبيون محل اتهام من عديد التونسيين بسب غلاء الأسعار وبالتالي تأثيرهم غير المباشر على تدهور القدرة الشرائية لهم وعدم قدرتهم على التنافس ليس فقط على الأسعار بل أيضا على الإيجار ناهيك عن شراء العقارات الذي أصبح شيئا صعب المنال للتونسيين في ظل تقلص الطبقة الوسطى في تونس والتي تمثل حاليا 67 بالمائة من التونسيين (تقلص ب 13 بالمائة منذ 2010). كما أن تصوير الليبيين في تونس على أنهم يمثلون عبئا اقتصاديا في البلاد يؤشر إلى صعوبة استيعاب هذه الجالية كمصدر دخل اقتصادي خاصة في مجال الاستثمار العقاري والسياحة الطبية والتي يستحوذ الليبيون على أكبر نسبة من الوافدين الأجانب لتونس لمختلف المصحات للعلاج.

 

ولعل سخرية الأقدار شاءت ان تصبح الأزمة الليبية الحالية مصدر رزق لهذه المصحات خاصة في المدن الكبرى كتونس العاصمة وصفاقس بالتحديد حتى ظلت تجارة مربحة لبعض المصحات في الجنوب التونسي بالخصوص. لكن مع تأزم الأمور في الحدود خاصة على مستوى معبر راس جدير وجد الكثير من الليبيين خاصة ممن تعوزهم الوسيلة من الذهاب إلى وجهات طبية أخرى كتركيا والأردن بسبب فرض الأخيرتين تأشيرات على الليبيين منذ 2015، صارت تونس وجهة سياحية طبية لا مفر منه من مبدأ “مكره أخاك لا بطل”.

 

وتبقى المعاملة المتقلبة من طرف أعوان الأمن والجمارك التونسيين ما يضطر ابعض الليبيين من “مقاطعة الوجهة التونسية” والبحث عن “وجهة سياحية جديدة أكثر سلاسة في التعامل” هذا ما لمسته من خالد أ، شاب ليبي من طرابلس أتى لتونس للمرة الثانية في حياته، الأولى كانت في 2015 للحصول على تأشيرة للذهاب إلى الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية والثانية للذهاب مع أصدقائه في رحلة سياحية إلى الجزائر في يونيو الماضي.

 

” كنت متخوفا بعض الشيء من المعاملة في الطريق من أعوان الأمن التونسيين خاصة وأن أصدقائي في طرابلس حذروني منهم ومن حالات الرشوة والابتزاز لكن الحمد لله لم أتعرض لأي شيء من هذا القبيل” قال مبتسما. لكن هذا لا يخفي قرار بعض الليبيين مؤخرا خاصة مع انطلاق عملية البنيان المرصوص في مدينة مصراتة ضد عناصر تنظيم الدولة وقرار توجيه الكثير من المصابين في العملية إلى الجزائر بسبب “سوء المعاملة في المصحات التونسية” حسب البعض من مدينة مصراتة.

 

علاقات ثنائية متقلبة

 

ويرى السيد رضا السعيدي الوزير السابق المكلف بالأمور الاقتصادية في حكومة حمادي الجبالي أن العلاقات التونسية الليبية تبقى متقلبة بتغير الحكومات بعد الثورتين التونسية والليبية وقد خلق هذ التقلب نوعا من الحساسية حتى في التعاملات الرسمية مما قد يؤثر سلبا حتى التونسيين في ليبيا والذي يقدر عددهم بحوالي 110000 حسب أيوب الشرع منسق عام مجلس شيوخ ليبيا. وظهرت هذه الحساسيات منذ بداية بناء الساتر الترابي بين تونس وليبيا وما تبعه من تصريحات اعتبرها الليبيون “مستفزة” من الرئيس التونسي السيد الباجي قايد السبسي حول “تصدير ليبيا للإرهاب” في مارس 2016 وكادت أن تؤثر على التبادل الاقتصادي بين البلدين إذ أثارت التصريحات حفيظة بعض المسؤولين الليبيين. لأكن تم بسرعة تفادي الأزمة الدبلوماسية عند “تصحيح الخطأ من الناطق الرسمي للرئاسة والذي أكد ان التصريحات أخذت من خارج سياقها إذ أن السيد قائد السبسي قصد المقاتلين الأجانب الذين وجدوا في ليبيا موطئ قدم لهم ولم يكن يفصد الشعب الليبي حسب قول الناطق الرسمي.

 

كما ساهم إغلاق لمجال الجوي منذ 2015 على الطائرات القادمة من مطار معيتيقة (مع فتح المجال لمطاري المنستير وصفاقس فقط) في تأزيم العلاقات بين حكومة طرابلس في الغرب والحكومة التونسية وبدأت بوادر تحسن عند فتح المجال في شهر يونيو واستئناف الرحلات إلى مطار تونس قرطاج الدولي.

 

إعلام تونسي متحامل

 

يجمع الكثير من الليبيين أن الإعلام التونسي بنوعيه العمومي والخاص “متحامل جدا” ضد ليبيا والليبيين خاصة في تصويره للوضع في ليبيا.

وقد أعرب محمد، ح ناشط ليبي في المجتمع المدني من طرابلس عن سخطه تجاه الإعلام التونسية

” ما لا أفهمه هو الاتهامات المتكررة من المسؤولين التونسيين وزد على ذلك الإعلام التونسي بأن ليبيا مصدر الإرهاب وكأننا لسنا ضحايا الإرهاب، وقد نسي السيد السبسي لأن أكثر الإرهابيين في ليبيا هم من التونسيين”

 

وحسب العديد من الليبيين فإنّ الإعلام التونسي يقوم غاليا على عنصر الإثارة في تغطيته للأحداث في ليبيا وقد فشل في إعطاء المعلومة الدقيقة عن الوضع في الميدان وفي أغلب الأحيان يجنح لتحاليل “أشباه خبراء ” في الشأن الليبي حسب رضا السعيدي.

 

هاجس العودة

 

ويبقى المستقبل غامضا للعديد من الليبيين في تونس كغموض المشهد السياسي في ليبيا إد يبقى الهاجس الأمني الحاجز الأكبر لرجوع السواد الأعظم منهم.  وقد خيّر البعض منهم الاستقرار في تونس وحتى العمل ولو مؤقتا في اعمال مختلفة حرة كالبناء المطاعم لإعالة أنفسهم.

 

كما تجد بعض الأسر الليبية صعوبة خاصة مع من لديها أطفال يدرسون في مدارس ليبية وقد لجأ البعض منهم إلى تسجيل أبنائها في مدارس تونسية لعدم القدرة على دفع رسوم المدارس الليبية الخاصة.

 

ويبقى أغلب الليبيين في تونس معتمدين بصفة كبيرة على مدخراتهم والإعانات المتأتية من عائلاتهم في ليبيا وخارج ليبيا. كما تقلص دور السفارة الليبية في تونس في السنة الأخيرة حسب سهام فلم يعد يقدم الخدمات المطلوبة للمقيمين في تونس كما كان الشأن بعيد الثورة الليبية وهو ما يعكس الأزمة التي تمر بها السفارات الليبية في الخارج في ظل الانقسام السياسي في ليبيا.

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ليبيون أمام القنصلية العامة الليببية بتونس العاصمة

 

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Libyan chaos lures Islamic State to establish a foothold in North Africa

While the world stood horrified at ISIL gruesome video dated 3rd February 2015 showing the killing of Jordanian pilot Muaz Al Kassassbeh being burnt alive, reactions ensued with Jordanian forces carrying out air strikes on ISIL positions in Mosul, Iraq the following day. A worldwide outrage and anger provoked at atrocities committed by IS militants in the Middle East. The Islamic State succeeded in galvanizing audiences in the Arab world to reject its brutality as “unislamic”, with Egypt’s Al Azhar, the highest Sunni Muslim religious authority issuing a fatwa prohibiting the showing of the terrorist group’s videos.

But IS did not only rally the world against it, it also managed to divert the attention- albeit temporarily, quite tactical maybe- from an almost forgotten conflict in North Africa because the world was busy recovering from the extent of IS’s theatricality of macabre execution styles. Until 15th February, the group resurfaced with its release of another disturbing video purporting it was shot in the coastal town of Sirte, 450 km east of the capital Tripoli, showing 21 Coptic Egyptians in orange overalls and being led along the beach by men clad in black. They were decapitated and their blood flowing in the Mediterranean Sea added to the world’s horror at the continuous terrorist group display of savagery. In act of defiance, one of the perpetrators of the execution of the 21 Coptic Egyptian workers (who were abducted in December 2014 in Gadadfi’s hometown) vowed to “conquer Rome” and defeat the “Crusaders”, while pointing the knife towards the turned-red sea in the direction of Europe. Europe that has been mobilized for a possible IS’ attack since 2014, when the group conquered swaths of lands in Syria and Iraq and has been threatening to conquer more lands in the region.

Prior to the video, IS has carried out a successful operation in the heart of the Libyan capital Tripoli, when two suicide bombers, one Tunisian and the other Sudanese , braved security of the luxurious hotel Corinthia. The hotel is where former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan used to stay (and was abducted by local militias in October 2013). It is also where a few Western embassies and companies have based themselves. The attack killed nine people, all foreigners and was claimed by the Islamic State of Tripoli, an IS-linked group.

It remains a mystery who the members of IS in Libya are in the current chaotic atmosphere where radical groups such as Ansar Sharia and other Al Qaeda-linked groups are also thought to have either defected with IS in order to

 

Now Libya has become the next target for IS’ expansionist projects, putting the North African strife-torn country in the headlines again since summer 2014 conflict. A conflict that pitted General Khalifa Hiftar and his Dignity Operation to the Tripoli-based Libya Dawn operation, supported by a coalition of Islamist-affiliated groups and the General National Congress which has been voted out in the June elections by the current House of Representatives and its Tobruk-based parliament.

 

Out of touch, out of coverage: what’s the frequency in Libya?

 

“Finally Libya is making the headlines,” exclaimed some Libyans on social network earlier this month. The world is finally going to care about Libya, its lingering conflict, but most importantly the international community will start acting about Libya, instead of just condemning, complained others. Libya again made headlines for the same (wrong or right) reasons: Islamic State.

The beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic workers 15 February 2015 brought Libya back into the headlines and the world attention, that has been diverted since summer 2014- when the country started to disintegrate into two rival governments, parliaments, torn apart by rival militias all vying for control of this oil-rich North African nation- by events in Syria, Egypt and more recently Yemen and the Huthis’ renewed rebellion that ousted president Abed Rabbo Yasser Mansoor on January 2015.

But amid the attrition war that claimed the lives of about 2,500 Libyans for the years 2014 alone and thousands more since the ousting of Gadadfi in October 2011, saw two of its main airports, Benghazi and Tripoli, literally destroyed after heavy fighting between pro-General Hiftar forces with his Dignity Operation, allied to the House of Representatives elected in June 2014, based in eastern Libyan town of Tobruk and the Islamist loosely allied factions to the General National Congress of Libya Dawn, elected in June 2012 and is based in the capital Tripoli.

 

Mapping IS growth in Libya

 

But why has the world abandoned Libya, some commentators wondered?

Simon Speakman-Cordall, a British freelance journalist based in Tunis and currently writing a book about jihad and democratization in Tunisia, told me that in December of last year that he has been telling his fellow media people in the North America that it was worthwhile focusing on the Libyan turmoil and the unfolding events of Dignity and Libya Dawn operations that led to a dead end in the resolution of the conflict and the rise of IS, which he credits its first inception in 2012 after the assassination of US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. They gave him a cold shoulder about it.

Speakman-Cordall who attempted a few times to go to Libya to research IS but each time his visa was declined by the Libyan embassy in Tunis, he resigned himself to do his work from Tunisia. The town of Derna is the focal point of his upcoming book, where he is tracking the journey of Tunisian jihadists (radical Islamist fighters).

Indeed, the eastern Libyan town has become notorious for being the North African hub for Al Qaeda fighters since the fall of the Gadadfi regime and having become historically the safe haven for Libyan returnees Afghan war against the Soviet, Iraq war against the Americans and more recently the Syrian war against Bashar Al Assad regime in 2012. Joined by foreign fighters particularly Tunisians, Algerians, Moroccans, Egyptians, Palestinians to name but a few of the other nationalities, the town made bayaa (paid allegiance) to the self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi earlier this year.

The BBC has published a map of Libya describing the different locations and spots of different actors on the ground from IS to Ansar Sharia and other loosely-affiliated Islamist groups, with the most extremist with radical, “jihadist” outlook to the least extremist outfits made up of former Libyan rebels who fought the war against Gaddafi and those with tribal allegiances, the most important of which is Libya Dawn.

According to Nomane Ben Otman a counter-terrorism expert with the Quilliam Foundation, the first world-renowned center that researches extremism and radical Islam based in London, IS represents a serious threat to Libya and it is trying to establish an emirate in eastern Libya, he told CNN in November 2014.

 

This goes counter to a narrative in Libya that IS is a phenomenon that is being much exaggerated that it almost gives credit to it. Some doubted the veracity of the Sirte video, claiming that the town is IS-free, in contrast to the show of force by IS in the streets when their militants paraded last week in defiance, managed to occupy the local radio, took the university and placed snipers on the rooftops, reported a local form Sirte on his Twitter on 19 February 2015.

However, Libya Dawn claimed on a visit to Sirte last week that they found out Gaddafi loyalists among IS, which could give credit to the neighboring city of Misrata, 200 miles east of Tripoli that its militias that are instrumental in the Libya Dawn coalition that they are fighting Gaddafi loyalists and protecting the Libyan revolution from counter-revolutionary movements. Is IS part of this movement that could threaten the very existence of Libya’s third largest city? A plausible answer may lie in the recent Derna-based IS brigade, Al Battar’s warning to Misrata about interfering in its operations and that “his head would end up on the entrance of the city,” Al Battar Media Foundation, IS brigade media office stated a few days ago. Misratan militias that have been struggling to wrest control over Sirte since 2011 competing for control with Ansar Sharia and other radical Islamist groups more or less linked to Al Qaeda.

This power struggle as evidenced in the rivalry between different militias across Libya is symptomatic of the continuous fragmentation of the Libyan state. The country has become a failed state since the summer 2014 where factionalism as well as political and social void exacerbated the already deteriorating security, political and economic situation of the country. The entry of IS in this anarchic setting is a red indicator that unless national dialogue between warring factions of Libya Dawn-backed GNC and Operation-Dignity backed House of Representatives in UN-brokered peace and reconciliation talks in Geneva and Ghadames since January of this year, the conflict may linger and even deteriorate if some of those factions shift allegiances and decide to join IS as part of the power struggle logic.

 

Response to IS execution in Libya and aftermath of operations

 

When General Abdul Fattah Al-Sissi responded to the execution of the 21 Egyptian Copts by carrying out strikes in Derna in reprisal, jet fighters bombed IS training facilities and ammunition stores, a statement broadcast on Egyptian TV on 16 February 2015. The strikes caused the death of scores of civilians, including women and children.

The Derna attack outraged many Libyans, especially anti-Hiftar and the GNC as well as Derna Shura Council condemned the airstrikes and promised a harsh response against Egypt.

On 20 February 2015, a car bomb killed around 40 people, all civilians in the town of Guba, between Beida and Derna. IS claimed responsibility for the attack in reprisal to the Derna attack and that suicide bombers were involved in the attack. The GNC and House of Representatives firmly condemned the Guba massacre, along with the UN and the international community. It prompted some dialogue delegates in the UN-brokered dialogue process boycotted the round of talks which was due to start on 22 February in Morocco, but have been suspended in protest at the massacre. Seething anger in Libya grew and many Libyans especially in the east accused the UN, the UK and the US of favoring Libya Dawn and the Muslim Brotherhood, accusations that have been refuted by the US and the UK. Frustration with UN security council’s refusal to lift embargo on weapons to Libya after a plea presented by House of Representatives, along with Egypt pulling back its demand for an international intervention in Libya on 18 February isolated Libya and pushed back to UNSMIL plan for a united national government in Libya and which is supported by Tunisia, Algeria and Italy.

The US , France and the UK followed suit urging for the unity government and hoping for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, hoping that the “urgency of IS will bring factions together”.

The situation in the south of Libya is as dire as in the north of the country where locals have been struggling with different militia groups vying for control of illegal activities such as weapon smuggling and human trafficking since the war in Mali in 2012 and the return of Tuareg Islamist militants to Libya. The situation that has been made worse with neighboring Chad and Niger mobilizing forces to fight Boko Haram, while warning about the spillover of Jihadi groups in Libya’s into their territories. In December 2014, during a forum on security in the Sahel region in Senegalese capital Dakar, Chadian president Idris Déby-Itno warned about the Libyan quagmire by calling NATO to finish the job of securing Libya from terrorist organizations that are linked to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and the Sahel region.

 

Meanwhile, the security situation in Libyan remains fragile in particular for Egyptians, who were urged by Libya Dawn to leave the country following Egyptian strikes on Derna last week. Thousands have already crossed the Tunisian and Egyptian border crossing with Libya. In addition to the difficult economic situation, people continue to suffer sever power and water cuts, as well as delay in payment for government employees of their salaries. With oil production dipping to a severe low level with 200,000 barrels a day in late 2014, the country, whose economy depends at 95% on oil production may be facing bankruptcy unless it managed to end the political turmoil and restore security in the country to ensure stability and return of investors and international companies to get the country back on track.

 

Categories: ISIS, Libya, Libyan Revolution | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The World Wonders Who Is This Nation of Heavy Drinkers”: Demystifying Teetotalism in Libya

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Libyan dry white wine from Misrata (photo credit: Guilhem Roger)

“God invented Guinness so the Irish would not rule the world” Irish saying

 

Dhat Al Imad Towers: Symbol of Prohibition

“There is so much social hypocrisy here that Libyans do not drink,” Barbara, a European young woman working in Tripoli complained to me. “Yet, every Thursday evening, I see a lot of young Libyans drinking heavily. They do not know how to drink here. There is no social drinking . It is not like in Tunisia,” she explained the pattern of drinking among people in post-Gaddafi Libya. Barbara is among many foreigners, particularly Westerners, who have noticed the social stigma around alcohol drinking in this conservative Muslim North African nation.

Unlike its Western neighbor, Tunisia, where alcohol has been legalized since the French “protectorate” (the term used by French colonial system denoting the colonial period of Tunisia between 1881 and 1956), alcohol is legally banned in Libya. Post-independence Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba continued with his predecessors’ laws and regulated the use of alcohol drinks in Tunisian public spaces such as bars, restaurants and hotels. With the ousting of former Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the advent of a moderate Islamist-led government of Ennahda in Tunisia, many liberal Tunisians who declare themselves as open drinkers feared that once Islamists are in power, they will curtail individual freedoms, of which  that of drinking and selling alcohol in public.

When former Tunisian PM Hamadi Jebali went to Washington DC in May 2011 -a few months before the first democratic elections in Tunisian history in October 2011- he stated that if Ennahdha comes to power, it will not seek to close brothels (prostitution is legal in Tunisia since the 1940s under French colonialism) and bars. He referred to Prophet Mohamed abstaining from destroying statues that people of Mecca used to worship and advised his companions to be patient with the “non-believers” until they accepted Islam and the existence of one God with no compulsion. The same applies to alcohol, we do not want to see a bar in every house,” he insisted. This statement may have shocked many in Tunisia, even if some doubted his deep intentions as “a soft way” to start banning alcohol gradually.

The situation is totally different in Libya. It has often been in fact, ever since Gaddafi took power in 1969. He banned brothels and bars that were “tolerated” under the reign of Libyan king Driss I. The Tripoli area near Jamaa Borgheba is still infamous for being the red-light district of Tripoli till today, albeit illegally and discreetly but people attest to the presence of Tunisian and Moroccan prostitutes there. What about alcohol then? Libyan law makes it illegal to sell it in public places including hotels and restaurants. Yet, long before King Driss’ reign in Libya, some Libyans had often engaged in the brewing of a unique Libyan alcoholic drink called “bokha“. It is brewed from mainly figs and dates and methanol is added to the mixture.

The drink is famous with Libyan Jews in the Diaspora but also Tunisian Jews (many of whom have Libyan origins and might have brought it to Tunisia when they migrated to the country in the 19th and 20th centuries after successive famines in Libya).

In London, where there is an important Jewish community of North African descent, during religious ceremonies kosher bukha, made in Tunisia or in France by North African Jews,  is served in houses for Shabos (Shabbat) and other religious events. The drink contains  between 40 and 50 % of alcohol. During the annual pilgrimage to Al Ghriba Synagogue in the Tunisian island of Djerba in April, Jews from all over the world, often of North African descent, converge to get the blessings of the holy place. Its custodian, Perez Trabelsi, gives one shot of bukha to each visitor. With around 3000 visitors in average before the Tunisian Revolution, Perez would perform the ritual of drinking after each visitor coming to him to have a shot of bukha. “By the end of the ritual, he would be too drunk to walk on his feet,” Bochra, a Tunisian businesswoman who often attended the Ghriba procession told me.

But, if such a brew is strong enough to make someone unable to stand on one’s feet after a few hours, can it become lethal to the extent that it causes the death of over 70 people in a few days? Many in Libya wondered after the tragic death of 101 young Libyans, who have been admitted to Tripoli hospitals on March 10, 2013 for alcohol poisoning. The number of patients reached 1066 that some dangerous cases such as kidney failure, blindness etc were recorded. Some more serious cases were transferred to Tunisia. Poisoning through bokha has become the headline in Libyan social networks and media outlets in Libya and abroad. People were horrified at the quick rising number of deaths. “The strange thing is that there were girls too,” some exclaimed on Facebook. In a conservative society, the news of Muslim females drinking alcohol comes as as a big shock, a shameful act that few were able to comprehend.

A Libyan friend of mine who studied and lived in the US admitted he sometimes drinks but socially “like in the West,” he insisted . ” You know that Gaddafi ordered the building of the five towers of Dhat Al Imad -commonly known by some in Libya as shisha maglouba (Libyan Arabic for an upside down bottle)- to symbolize prohibition in Libyan society, according to Gaddafi” he explained to me. The five towers are cylindrical, bottle-shaped skyscrapers. His under-statement hints to a deep malaise among many young Libyans who question the use of such a prohibition in a deeply conservative Muslim society. What is banned, forbidden is often the most desired, some would say. The myth of Libyans being teetotalers has been challenged recently. Many Libyans who would often flock to Tunisia to go to its trendy bars in Sousse, Hammamet, Djerba and Tunis is reminiscent of young Saudis who would travel to the small island-state of Bahrain during weekends to get drunk.

” The World Wonders Who is This Nation of Heavy Drinkers”

 

“There is this social hypocrisy that Libyans do not drink because they are devout Muslims,” noted Barbara. Some Libyans on Facebook sarcastically made comments about the status of Libya being the country of one million Quran reciters and now the world discovering they are a nation of drinkers. “The world wonders who is this nation of heavy drinkers ,” Min Libya (a pseudonym), a young Libyan, who describes himself as a  “low-key” liberal and often drinks”, wrote on his Facebook status one day after the tragedy of alcohol poisoning deaths in Tripoli. “Why can’t they just regulate drinking alcohol and end this hypocrisy that no one drinks in Libya? That way, young Libyans can drink sensibly like everyone else,” he insisted. The sarcastic note hides a deep resentment and distress of many Libyans by the tragedy.

The death of over a hundred young people and the blindness of several more through alcohol poisoning has left many Libyans in shock, puzzled and distressed but not indifferent at the extent of the tragedy and its impact on post-Gaddafi Libyan society. Self-denial and “social hypocrisy” have let room to heated debates on social networks and media outlets about alcohol consumption unearthing an old and persistent taboo in Libyan society: that of open alcohol consumption. Some empathized with the victims and lashed out at the hypocrisy behind the issue of alcohol drinking in Libya; others made strong statements in which they blasted the victims’ loose behavior for leading an immoral life of “binge drinking” (the mysterious deaths of these youths made some think that they were heavily drunk, hence their sudden deaths).

Min Libya called on his Facebook page for the regulation of alcohol consumption as well as the industry of alcohol brewing. This bold statement may be shared by other fellow Libyans, yet it shows the development in mentality regarding some social taboos in Libyan society and culture. This lifted up the lid off social stigmatization of alcohol consumption and denial that more and more Libyans drink including young women. It came as a shock for many that among the victims were young women, yet it showed a deep malaise in Libyan society that this scourge of alcohol consumption is related to a number of factors, including post-conflict/war stress and traumas.

Those who sympathized with the victims justified the act of drinking alcohol by the (side)-effects of the nine-month conflict in 2011 on the morale of many youths, some of whom resorted to drinking to numb the psychological disorder and stress caused by war atrocities. I met a young Libyan from Misrata in Tunis last year who was jailed in the infamous Abu Salim jail in Tripoli during the Libyan Revolution, was tortured and later released. He would drink so heavily when he comes to Tunisia that he would fall and vomit in the street, a French friend of his told me.

The culprit who sold the poisonous alcohol in Tripoli was caught in the western Tripoli area of Ghergharesh by a Tripoli brigade fighting criminal activities. He has been identified as Elisa by the captors. Yet little is known about the number of people who were involved in the business of brewing bukha. However, six were arrested connected to the case of alcohol poisoning. This underground industry has always flourished under Gaddafi. A young Salafist living in Benghazi confessed to me once that there are farms east of Benghazi where people brew bokha, while authorities are turning a blind eye to it.

It is no surprise that the number of Libyans consuming alcohol increased since the death of Gaddafi but there has been no study or a quantitative/qualitative research of alcohol consumption in Libya. Almost a year ago, the Economist published a report entitled “Tequila Umma: Alcohol Consumption in the Muslim World in which it drew a chart on alcohol consumption in eight countries from Pakistan, to Lebanon and Iran. It described Libya as a flourishing black market for spirits. It listed Libyans consuming an aggregate of 0.11 liter of alcohol per person annually between 2003 and 2005. The chart described Libyan alcohol consumers as being “the Gaddafis before their fall”. How true are the Economist‘ findings is dependent on more accurate quantitative and qualitative research/findings into alcohol consumption in Libya to gauge the extent of the phenomenon in post-Gaddafi Libyan society.

The Irish Connection and the Libyan Diaspora in Ireland

 

Ireland, the Emerald Island, is considered as the most conservative country in Europe, religion-wise. The Catholic nation has often bred this image of being a staunch Catholic country where religion plays an important role in Irish society and culture. Yet, this nation of 6 million people is also famous for being one of the “merriest” nations when it comes to drinking alcohol. Guinness, the Irish booze par excellence, is consumed without moderation in Irish pubs in Ireland and around the world. The Irish Diaspora in the UK and the US have brought with them traditions from their island, including the St Patrick’s celebrated annually in March. The Great Famine of the mid-1840s forced around one million Irish men, women and children off their island and sought a better life in the New World. Until the 1970s, Ireland remained an under-developed country compared to its European counterparts. It witnessed an economic boom after joining the EU in the 1970s and became the Celtic Tiger thanks to its rapid economic growth between 1995 and 2008.

Ireland bears an uncanny historical, social and cultural resemblance with Libya: both had witnessed famines in almost the same period of time (for Libya in the 1760s, 1790s and later in the 1940s), a lot of Irish and Libyan population left their homelands to neighboring countries, Britain and Tunisia respectively (where living standards were better than in their homelands), both came under the rule of “ruthless” colonial powers: Italy and the UK. Other traits include the clan/tribe system, where it faded in Ireland and subsisted in Libya and bagpipes music, to cite but a few of the common cultural traits.

Irish cuisine still has potato-based recipes, which was the staple food of most Irish families since the 16th century and until the Great Famine with the failure in potato crop. This unsophisticated cuisine although it developed recently thanks to the cosmopolitanism of its cuisine and to the openness to foreign cuisines is rooted in Irish history where many Irish had to survive eating basic food, where potato is the main ingredient. In Libya, food made of barley in particular became the basic staple food for Libyans. Bazeen is an example of a Libyan dish that historically, Libyans during successive famine periods, used to consume quite often to survive when there was nothing else to eat  during years of draught.

There is a considerable Libyan diaspora in Ireland, the most famous of an Irish-Libyan is former Libyan Minister of Health Fatima Al Hamroush. During Gaddafi-era, a Libyan school was set up in Dublin and many IRA members supported Gaddafi and continued during the Libyan Revolution. Many Libyans chose to settle un Ireland, particularly students. Some married Irish women there and had Irish-born Libyan children. The island has become a hospitable place to live in for immigrants since the 1990s, including Libyans. Where Guinness is Ireland’s national brew, bokha is Libya’s “unofficial” national alcoholic drink. Bukha is also consumed by Tunisian Jews during religious events and weddings.

Yet, Libyans never claim to be alcohol consumers as would the Irish often pride themselves in being among the biggest consumers of Whiskey and Guinness in the world. Even during Prohibition years and the rise of temperance movements in 19th century America, bootlegged whiskey continued to flood US markets, competing with Irish whiskey. Where it is common that you may be stopped by a friendly Dubliner in the streets of Dublin and amicably invites you for a pint of Guinness in the local pub (it happened to me and a Tunisian female friend in 2006 but we had to politely decline his offer), a foreigner is even more surprised by hospitable Libyans insisting on inviting you to their house and making you eat couscous or taste the good old bazeen.

When Iranian president, Ahmadinejad declared in 2008 that there are no gays in Iran, his statement was met with mockery over his denial of the existence of an important homosexual community in Iran. It will be a long time before officials in Libya admit to the fact that alcohol consumption in Libya is a reality and no longer a social taboo that needs to be hidden from the outside world.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Categories: Gaddafi, Ireland, Libya, Libyan Revolution, Tunisia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tebus of Libya: Marginalized in their Own Land Claim to be Libya’s Southern Border’s Shield

“The South is a sleeping volcano… It is resting on a hot plate,” Fathi Al Tebbawi’s words came as a leitmotif in reference to the daily struggle of Libyan South indigenous population of Tebus with illegal immigrants from neighboring countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Fathi, a young man in his twenties and a revoliutionary during the Libyan uprising that toppled former Libyan dictator Mumammar Gaddafi. “The South is the shield protecting Libya from all types of illegal activities from human trafficking to smuggled alcohol, drugs and dangerous weapons from neighboring countries,” he stressed.

Originally from the southeastern city of Kufra- a town that saw bloody tribal clahses between the majority black ethnic group of Tebus to the minority Arab tribe of Zuwaya in February 2012- Fathi is a proud revolutionary turned field officer of the Libyan Army and member of Ahmed Al Sharif Batallion of Kufrah, tasked wih the protection of the six oil fields of the Libyan South. During the clashes, around 50 people died from the Tebus sparking outrage among the community at the silence of Libyan authorities at what they called “the ethnic cleansing of black Tebus by Arab tribes.”

“Did you know that on February 15, 2011 a man set himself on fire in Kufrah sparking a riot in the city before Benghazi rose against Gaddafi setting up the Libyan Revolution?” he told me with a sense of frustration and bitterness about what he kept referring to a “the organized marginalization” of Tebus by the Gaddafi regime and later by the National Transitional Council and the current General National Congress.

The Tebus are black-skinned people who are found in Southern Libya from the city of Kufrah, near the Sudanese border of Libya to the cities of Sebha, Gatroon and Murzuk in southwestern Libya near the Chadian and Nigerien borders with Libya. They are the largest ethnic minority tribes in those cities. Yet, Tebus often complain that they have been marginalized in the past (and continue today) at the expense of the Arab tribes of Zuwaya in Kufrah and Awled Sliman in the city of Sebha.  Tebus are also found in neighboring Chad and Niger.

Sebha, the main southwestern city of Libya is a multicultural city with Tebus, Tuaregs and Arab tribes of Awled Sliman, Gedadfa and Megarha living together, despite the outbreak of clashes between the Arab tribes and non-Arab ones since the ousting of Gaddafi.

During the Libyan Revolution, Tebus joined their counterparts in Benghazi, Tripoli, Misrata, Zintan and Zawiya in their fight against Gaddafi forces. “We liberated the South before the rest of Libya. We did not have NATO help us get rid of Gaddafi forces who were attacking us, mercenaries that Gaddafi brought from Chad and also from Darfur of the Arab Mahameed tribe,” Tebbawi said with pride.

Before the revolution, many Tebus were considered as second-class citizens if not less, regretted Fathi. They were deprived of basic rights such as education and citizenship. In fact, many Tebus did not have Libyan citizenship during the Gaddafi regime. Gaddafi used to give citizenship to many Sub-Saharan Africans mainly from Niger and Chad who came to the south of Libya to ensure their loyalty to him and his supicion of Libyans.  In December 2007, the Gaddafi government stripped Tebu Libyans of their citizenship, claiming that they were not Libyans, but rather Chadians.

Tebus want to claim their rights to the fruits of the Libyan Revolution. Fathi said many Tebus fought in different battlefronts: Misrata, Ras Lanuf, Zawiya, Brega etc. But Fathi regrets that their fight for the liberation of Libya was quickly forgotten by those in Tripoli, referring to the central seat of the government. “Tripoli monopolizes everything and marginalized the rest of Libya,” Fathi went on. “We were like non-citizens and the Libyan Revolution gave us hope to finally address our rights to be equal to the rest of Libyans,” he stressed.

He nonetheless, rebuffed the idea of Federalism in the South as some have called for the restoration of the Federation of Fezzan, as used to be the case since the access to the throne of King Idriss of Libya.

We traveled to the southwestern area of Libya, some 300 kilometers north of Niger border, we passed different crossing gates along the road. Most of the gates are makeshifts ones, built by Tebus rebels who financed their construction with their own means, according to one of the gates’ guards. In Um Al Aranib crossing gate, which leads to Libya’s border to Niger, some of the guards were as young as 17 and 19. One of them said that he is on vacation from school and is helping in the protection of  the area from trafiickers and criminals. Watching over an expanse of Sahara desert land (90% of Libya is desert) is not an easy task and it takes brave and stoic young and old men to control thousands kilometers of border with four neghboring countries of Sudan, Chad, Niger and Algeria. “All that you see here is personal initiatives from Tebu locals. We get no financial support from Libyan government and then they (the government officials) declare on media that Libyan southern border are open to trafficking,” one of them complained.

Ubari is one of the main urban centers of south western Libay with a sizeable Tuareg and Tebu communities, along with Arab tribes and the Ahali, black Libyans of slave descent from Sub-Saharan African countries. With a population of 35,000 people, this oasis town was captured by the anti-Gaddafi forces in September 2011. On 19 November 2011, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and a few associates were captured and detained about 50 kilometers west of Ubari as they were trying to flee to neighbouring Niger.

Kalmi Ramadan is a pharmacist, an environmental health expert and human rights activist. Married with five children a d originally from the south eastern oasis town of Kufra, Ramadan was forced to leave his hometown six months ago with his family after he received threats and his house was attacked over his strong criticism of the Shield of Libya’s handling of the events in Kufra in February 2012.  The fighting continued until late June 2012.

“200 people died and what is painful in all of this, is that most of the victims were children and old people,” he stated.

Ramadan came out on television and accused Shield of Libya (which was from Benghazi as being part of the problem in particular, its commander, Hafedh Agouri in, whose maternal uncles belong to the Zuwayya tribe of Kufra that was involved in the bloody fighting against the Tebus .

Ramadan reiterated Tebu people’s right to the constitutionlization of Tebu language just like Amazigh and Tuareg languages, spoken respectively by Libyan Amazighs and Tuaregs.

“We are guarding the South day and night and we do it with stoicism because this is our land and we will not let it a prey for criminal activities”, resolute Fathi Tebbawi concluded.

Categories: Gaddafi, Libya, Libyan Revolution, Sahara Desert, Tebus | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Libyan Tuaregs reiterate belonging to Libya, address post-revolution grievances to righting the wrong

Tuaregs and Tebus are indigenous peoples

Of the tribes of Libo and Numidia

They are the remnants of the Garamantian civilization

In what Herodote related in the history of mankind

And also Ibn Khaldun in scientific sources

We are 10,000 years (of history)

Before the birth of the African Continent

Whose founder is Africus and he is one of us

We speak Tifinagh, our official language

Engraved in the Mountains of Tibesti, Acacus and Nafusa

Before the Quran, the Sunna (of Prophet Muhammad) and the Islamic Consquest (of North Africa)

Tuaregs and Tebus are historical tribes

They never came from Iraq or Saudi Arabia

From the history of Libyan people

They have been denided citizenship in the past and continue to be so

We never knew the cause, they say they are legal ones

We have no foreign agenda

Neither from the Vatican, nor from the Qatari State

Not from a prince or a king or even a foreign ministry

And this is a letter to the Libyan Government

Yes for cohabitation, no to racism

So do not force dictatorship on us

If that happens, we will get our freedom

In the past, we were subject to collective ethnic cleansing

Denial and removal of our existence and identity

From the Qumam criminal groups

Do not play with fire

I am warning you for real

We have an expansion of a geographical map

From Azawad Mountains to proud Darfur

And from the Canaries Islands to Egyptian Siwa Oasis

We have never and will never recognize(d) colonial borders

We are who we are

We are the sons of Yusuf Ibn Tashfeen and Kusaila our master

The grandsons of Tenhenan and her sister Dahiya

And Kausen, who fought the French

And emancipated slaves from bondage

Betrayed, he was stabbed by treacherous hands

Tuaregs and Tebus are historical tribes

They never came from Iraq or Saudi Arabia

And headed the fight of the Amazigh nation

If you are an Arab in an Arab state

If you are a Hashimi in a Hashimite state

If you are an Alawite in an Alawite state

If you are an Ansari, go to Saudi Arabia

This is neither a neighbor state, nor a provincial one

Leave and do not come back

Tenere is Amazigh

Your presence here is illegal

In all Divine books

Abdullah Weld Tenhenan, a tall and stout Tuareg young man- his wavy, dark brown hair in poneytail and  wearing a long black leather jacket and black trousers- stands in stark contrast with his fellow Tuaregs, donned in their distinctive  blue outfits and the half-covered face with a blue scarf.

He lives in the southwestern Libyan city of Ubari. Weld Tenhenan recited a poem, which he wrote in both Amazigh and translated in Arabic about the glorious past of the Sahara Desert’s larget ethnic group, the Tuaregs (also known as Imohag or Amazigh/Berber of the Sahara Desert).

Tuaregs nicknamed the Blue Men, in reference to the long blue scarf that men wear covering half of their faces, are scattered along the largest desert in the world and are present in Libya, Niger, Algeria, Mauritania and Mali.

They live in nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyles, Tuaregs played a complex role during the Gaddafi regime, who used some of them as his allies by giving them financial incentives, titles and citizenship. He even promised them to create their own state.

During the Libyan Revolution, many Tuaregs fought with Gaddafi, in Ghadames near the Tunisian-Algerian border, in southwestern towns of Sebha, Ubari (where they are present in large numbers) and other southwestern areas.

In Ubari, there are between 5000 and 7000 Tuaregs living in the town. Some Tuaregs live on the soutskirts of the town in run-down dwellings. Some came here since the 1980s,  stated Youssef Ali, a Tebu man from Ubari.

It was during a meeting on 28 January 2013 at the Fort of Ubari- built by the French during the ten or so years of French occupation of Fezzan in the 19th century- that the ice was broken by four Tuareg civil rights activists on the situation of Libyan Tuaregs after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, with the death of the long-time Libyan dictator.

“We want to right the wrong that claims that we were all with Gaddafi fighting for him. We never hear of Tuareg Thuwars (Arabic for revolutionaries) in Libyan media as they do with other Libyan revolutionaries,” complained Ali, a Tuareg human rights activist from the town of Ubari, in southwestern Libya.

“We fought with our Libyan brothers in Western Libya in Jebel Nefusa area and in the Tunisian-Libyan border and liberated Tripoli,” he stressed.

“Why are our rebels not considered like other Libyan rebels? They got no political positions or rewards. People we elected in the GNC elections were disbarred and now, we have no one to represent us in GNC, “Ali went on complaining.

As for Qaddafi loyalists from the Tuareg community in the south, Ali claimed that they left Libya.

Abdullah Weld Tenhenan confirmed the presence of Tuaregs who committed crimes against Libyans and that he knows some who have their own relatives volunteered in Qaddafi troops. “They told me they are ready to hand them over to the Libyan authorities,” he emphasized.

“I never saw such patriotic people as Tuaregs in the south of Libya. They are guarding the border, while staying in the cold,” he added.

When driving along the Acacus Mountains to the border town with Algeria of Ghat, we came across young Tuareg men in gate posts checking drivers’ identities and searching their cars.

Weld Tenhenan prides himself in bearing a family name of a Tuareg queen Tenhenan (Weld meaning “son of” in Arabic).

“Tuareg society is the most egalitarian nation on earth.  Tuareg women have always enjyed their full rights. We are even more advanced than Switzerland in women’s rights”, he stressed.

Weld Tenhenan went on explaining that Tuareg women are powerful. He deplored that with the coming of Islamists in the Tuareg area in Northern Mali of Azawad, these latter started to annoy Tuareg women and to restict their freedom.

Ali confirmed that marginalization is a real problem. He stated that recently locals staged for a week a sit-in the Libyan oil company, Rixo, (in the area near Ubari), which provides Zawia oil refinery with oil and gas.

He claimed that Libyan government said that it would allocate 1/10 of oil production  to the south of Libya “but nothing of that happened. Besides, we got no compensation like other Libyan rebels,” he regretted.

All Tuareg men -Ali, Taieb and Abdullah- agreed that their community has been marginalized during Qaddafi era and that their identity was fought.

“If you had a weird name, you could not enrol in university, Ben Tenhenan explained.

Like their Tebu counterparts, Libyan Tuaregs claim that they bore the brunt of marginalization. They stressed that they have always been living alongside the Tebus and the Ahali community (of black slave descent) with no problem and that they work together to guard Libyan southwestern border effectively, using their own means, Ali concluded.

Categories: Libya, Libyan Revolution, Tuaregs | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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