The Silent Stallions of Libya

In Arabic we have a proverb that says beware the wrath of the patient. When Egypt rose against the tyranny, oppression, and widespread rooted corruption that had been governing it for three decades it was as if Sphinx had suddenly come to life and rose from his eternal rest. We toppled the president, a man known for his involvement in much of the plight of the Palestinians, if not his own people, but we still don’t feel that it’s over. Even before January 25, the day the revolution began, we had a series of little protests and semi-free press that criticized Egyptian domestic and foreign policies on a number of issues. Some journalists, although jailed later, criticized the person of the president. We expressed ourselves, but we were jailed, arrested, and tortured.

The Libyans have none of that. And they’ve had none of that for 42 years, not 30. I visited Libya in 2007 in a small attempt with a friend of mine to do some “Arab tourism,” visiting a fellow Arab country and seeing it through the eyes of a people who wanted to learn more about their immediate neighbors, with whom we share so much.

There was not a single day that passed without meeting a person who was either half-Egyptian or married to an Egyptian. Everyone was extremely kind, peaceful, calm. Nothing like what much of the media had tried to show of the Libyan people in many years that passed.

Posters of Qaddafi filled every street corner in such a way that made Mubarak appear quite benign, modern, civilized, and democratic. It was the 38th year of the coup d’etat which Qaddafi liked so much to refer to as a revolution. Larger than life images of him greeting his people, with the number 38 shamelessly plastered next to him.

We focused much of our trip on Benghazi, the land of the Sanoussis, the ousted royal family whom Qaddafi continued to despise, showing his hatred to the past with exaggerated and appalling neglect for the city. Streets were poorly paved, much of the buildings affected by the coastal weather were left unpainted for years. Government buildings were rundown, with broken windows left unfixed. Benghazi was a beautiful, neglected stallion ready to spring the minute it broke free of its curb.

People there were mostly silent. We were warned beforehand that it would not be wise to speak politics with any person. We were given the chance to visit the grandson of Omar Al Mukhtar, the legendary freedom fighter who fought the Italian invasion in the early twentieth century, now an elderly sheikh with an open lounge for students and visitors paying their respects. I was especially curious to listen to his views on the situation in the Middle East, especially after the 2006 war in Lebanon had just ended. The man’s eyes widened and he became extremely tense, refusing to talk to me, while men surrounding him decided that my friend and I were no longer welcome in the place.

Qaddafi does not just oppress dissent, he refuses the mere concept of opposition. Educators, professionals, writers, and many more skilled Libyans are living abroad. And outside Libya, if they oppose his regime he hunts them down and kills them. If you’ve ever tried talking to a Libyan about the truth of the Libyan regime prior to the current uprising you would know what I mean. Qaddafi haunted his opposition even in their dreams.

The more I watch the media the more evident the size of the horror gets clear to me, and that’s not just because of the sight of dead bodies or severely injured civilians. It’s because of the quivering voices of the anonymous eyewitnesses that can’t fight back their tears as they plea for help to the outside world, be they men or women, young or old. It’s in the shivering jaws and hands of the old opposition Libyans living in the UK, the US, Germany, and virtually most countries on the planet except their own, as they spoke with mixed emotions of grief and pride, their eyes wide in disbelief as they saw the liberation moment coming so close. Those silent people who couldn’t even speak about the regime even in exile were now exploding with horrors of the past they had witnessed, and appealing to the world with their plight.

I’ve seen it in my own country. If the fear is broken nothing else brings it back. If the wall of silence crumbles nothing will ever build it again. And it is crumbling everywhere in the Arab world, exposing the ugliness of the savage rule it had been subjected to for decades. And the Libyans, those amazing people who can teach the world lessons of patience, are bound to show the world how they will present their lives to the mad beast that dwells among them. It is their only gate to the world outside.

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  1. #1 by Sara Khorshid on February 22, 2011 - 7:49 am

    Great eyeopener. I will share.


  2. #2 by Marwa Elnaggar on February 22, 2011 - 8:20 am

    Arwa, once again you prove your incredible talent. Thank you for having the sense and presence of mind to write clearly and beautifully about these brave and beautiful people.


  3. #3 by Arwa Mahmoud on February 22, 2011 - 9:53 am

    Thanks, everyone. I’m glad I did. Something just had to come out somehow.


  4. #4 by Dalia Salaheldin on February 22, 2011 - 11:57 pm

    Ummm…. on personal basis…. heartbreaking..
    I can visualize every singly soul you are mentioning here…
    I can visualize the silent scared streets we roamed together..
    I can visualize the stallion souls that dwelled in silent exiles and muted indoors shut-ups
    I can visualize our retreat from the noble scholar’s house… stunned with our “decent silent being kicked out’ for daring to question foreing policy
    I can visualize the kind hearted people who spoke of love to Egypt and silenced any comment on their personal politicas…
    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh…. it hurts!
    Thank you 4 the reminder <3


  5. #5 by Dalia Salaheldin on February 22, 2011 - 11:58 pm

    *** P.S.
    Ignore my endless spelling mistakes…. can’t afford perfection now :(


  6. #6 by peter42y on February 23, 2011 - 6:22 am

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful words. The situation in Libya is extremely sad. Gadafi will stop at nothing. (One should remember how he killed in cold blood the lockerbie passengers.
    Gadaffi is a Psychopath. He will stop at nothing.Egyptians were lucky and the armed forces did not intervene in the behalf of the regime.
    People should prepare for the worst in Libya.
    Some people ( hitler is a good example) stop at nothing to achieve their mad dreams.
    Gadafi is one of such people .
    I personally believe Gadafi is a Malignant narcisist.
    He will stop at nothing .

    From the web :

    Psychopaths can almost be thought of as emotionally disabled in that they appear to experience a very limited range of emotion. They know the difference between what society considers “right” and “wrong,” but do not experience, and cannot empathize with, the feelings of suffering, remorse, elation and love that are normally part of the human experience.

    end of quote


  7. #7 by cathy on February 23, 2011 - 7:04 am

    A precious gift your ability to personalize the political. I fear Qaddhafi will not go quiet into that dark night…


  8. #8 by Arwa Mahmoud on February 23, 2011 - 12:59 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for your input. I woke up today to the news that 1000 people have died in Libya so far. Of all Arab countries that have liberated themselves so far, Libya stands out as the one who paid the dearest price. I hope none of that goes in vain. I hope that this bloody path will be one towards freedom and prosperity, not another form of autocracy.


  9. #9 by peter42y on February 25, 2011 - 9:54 pm

    Look at what I found today.
    In a news article with the title

    Gaddafi arming supporters to ‘crush enemy’

    Updated February 26, 2011 07:56:00

    Excerpt :

    ‘Psychologically unstable’

    Libya’s deputy UN ambassador said that thousands of people have been killed in the country’s unrest and that Mr Gaddafi may kill himself rather than be caught by his opponents.

    “There are already thousands of people who have been killed, we expect more,” said the diplomat, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has turned against the Gaddafi regime.

    Mr Dabbashi told reporters Mr Gaddafi is “psychologically unstable” and that “Gaddafi has the choice between being killed or commit suicide”.

    “He might seek to send some of his family members abroad but I believe he prefers to die in Libya because of his narcissistic character – he wants to act like a hero,” he said.”.

    I do not read arabic.
    I am a portuguese guy. Not an expert in Arab matters..,but somehow I did sense Gadafi is a Narcisist.
    Today I found others think the same.
    This is very bad news to the Libyans.
    As I wrote narcissists have no boundaries neither do they have feelings of empathy towards others.
    They do not feel remorse either.


    • #10 by Arwa Mahmoud on February 26, 2011 - 4:22 pm

      Thank you for your input, Peter. Qaddafi is more than just a narcissist. He is a psychopath. There are several names in his regime that fail to make any appearances so far and there are many who believe that they have probably been killed.

      He will stop at nothing, so if he does not kill himself soon someone eventually will. What’s more, this might be at the cost of thousands of more Libyan lives, not to mention the destruction that will be brought about to this bleeding country.


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