Libyans Struggle Along Path Toward Reconciliation

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Juliane Mittelstaedt, September 13, 2011.

How can a country come to terms with a 42-year reign of terror in which many people played a part? Who should be convicted and who should be spared? In Libya, justice is being meted out on the streets, but people are still talking about reconciliation … //

…Breaking Down Past Barriers: 

His neighbor, Mustafa al-Jareed, 25, is sitting on the stairs next to him.

“But listen,” says Jareed, “under Gadhafi we had people who were above the law. They could do as they pleased, and they got rich. And you? You’re still poor. Now you can do something about it. You can vote. That’s freedom!”

Then he looks at his neighbor and says: “If I had said that before, you would have reported me. We never talked like this. And we’ve been neighbors for more than 20 years.”

Adil al-Khair says nothing. He still believes Gadhafi’s promises, even though he earns only €350 a month as a driver and his family has remained poor.

When Khair has left to join his mother in the apartment, the neighbor says: “He’s lying. His brother had been patrolling and fighting for the Khamis Brigade in Tripoli since early August. I saw him with his weapon. He stole TV sets.” Walid was a pothead, says the neighbor, and perhaps he was simply too stupid to recognize that his world was lost. “The others in his brigade all fled to Tunisia.”

He Wanted Us to Need Him:

Taha al-Tahib says that when he was beating Wahid al-Khair, and he was lying on the ground in front of him, he apologized. “He said that he was forced to do it,” says Tahib. “But others deserted, and some deliberately shot themselves in the foot to avoid having to fight. He didn’t.”

“Why did you keep fighting?” Taha al-Tahib asked the soldier, but he only shrugged his shoulders. Tahib says that he feels sorry for the man. “He is uneducated, almost illiterate,” he says. “Gadhafi made sure that we all remained uneducated. He wanted us to need him.”

Taha al-Tahib doesn’t know what will happen to Khair now. Justice, he says, by which he means a fair trial, judges, witnesses and a prison where he will have rights. But is it possible to learn about justice in such a short time?

A prison similar to the one where Walid al-Khair is being held has been established in the Souq al-Juma neighborhood. Some 60 men sit on the floor in two small rooms in the building, a former school. Half of them are non-Libyan Africans. The rebels call them “mercenaries,” but their evidence often consists of nothing but a video taken with a mobile phone, a weapon one of the men was carrying, or a passport entry stamp dated June or July. Many of them are probably ordinary guest workers. Visitors are allowed to talk to them, but not alone … (full long text).

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