Note: PolicyMic Contributing Writer Nathan Lean has spent the past two weeks interviewing Libyan escapees about the violence in the country and the future of the country. In this exclusive interview, Lean caught up with a Libyan refugee from who has escaped to London. The interview was conducted over the phone. For his safety, his name has been changed to protect his identity. PolicyMic will continue to provide updates as we receive them on the situation in Libya.
When I finally reached Ali by telephone on Saturday morning, he was still shaken by the tragedy he had barely escaped. A native of Tripoli and a well known businessman with government connections, he fled the violence that erupted in his hometown and boarded the first flight he could find to a safer location, eventually landing in London. In this interview, the third part of PolicyMic’s exclusive coverage of Libya, he shares his story and offers his thoughts about the future of his war-torn country.
Nathan Lean (NL): Ali, thanks for speaking with me. When did you arrive in London?
Ali (A): I think I should just say that I got here on Thursday — you know, I don’t … I don’t want to say too much about the details of when and where because I still fear [for] my safety. And look, I’m here [London] where it’s safe, but I just know that his [Gaddafi] people may try to [take] revenge.
NL: Have you experienced any violence yourself? How about your family?
A: Yes, yes. After Gaddafi gave his speech, you know … did you hear, it was the one that was in his house, the one where he basically asked the neighbors to kill the anti-government people in the country, it became dangerous. An immediate neighbor of mine was armed by Gaddafi’s people. Militias [went] around and shooting. And that’s what they are, they are like militias. Kids, some of them 21, 20, 17 years old ... these kids are armed with machine guns and very modern ones. So, from Tuesday evening they started shooting over our house. We live in a flat just opposite of the Gaddafi compound. I am going to say that I fled on Wednesday morning. I snuck out late Tuesday and made it to the airport. I saw shootings. I saw people falling down in the streets. I myself was shot at during the demonstrations earlier in the week. And when someone falls, people go get the body and drag them to safety.
NL: Is your family with you? Where they able to escape as well?
A: I sent my family ahead. But they are not with me. We took whatever flights we could get. We just wanted to leave. My father-in-law is still there though, minding the house. We are well-known in Tripoli. He is also a well-known businessman with a well-known business. So he stayed.
NL: How long do you envision this violence lasting? What will be the outcome?
A: That is a difficult question to answer. Probably, it will continue a bit more. First we are dealing with Gaddafi — someone who is not rational and not concerned with anyone but himself. [The regime’s collapse] is not if, it is when, and the future depends on how much damage he leaves behind. He has only more more base that’s left. More ammunition was sent in by helicopter yesterday. He could possibly fortify himself in Tripoli for a few months, I don’t know. He is behaving erratically so we hope it’s a matter of days or weeks at worse. For now, we asked the younger generation not to burn buildings, not to ruin what is left of the city’s infrastructure. We must have something left after all of this is over.
During one of the protests, we crossed the big roundabout going to the parliament, and it’s very large, maybe one or two kilometers. Halfway through it, government cars, some land crusiers, pulled up and army personnel started shooting. The people in the cars started shooting and we could not rush them so we just fled. Somebody was carrying my friend by his head and arms. Six people died, but I can’t be sure. I just heard that six died. That was Sunday night. Then when he [Gaddafi] spoke on Tuesday, we knew more stuff like this would happen and he would not give up easily. I felt like then the opposition was unattainable.
NL: But this can’t continue forever, can it? Some endpoint must come. So let’s suppose for a moment that the opposition is attainable. What is next for Libya in terms of its government?
A: The Islamists you guys are worried about …
NL: Just for the record, you are referring to who? The United States, Europe?
A: Yes, I think the United States. The West is worried about the rise of Islamists. Just like in Egypt, there was concern about more freedom producing governments run by the [Muslim] Brotherhood. Well, they won’t lead [to this]. They didn’t lead this revolution and they won’t take over. They didn’t lead the revolution in Egypt and they won’t take Egypt over. In Tunis, the same thing. No, this is about the younger generation. They came out first didn’t they? They came out first. The not-so-wealthy people came out first. This is about them.
NL: So if the Islamists will not rule in Libya, who will? We know that Gaddafi comes from a tribal background. Will tribes rule, will there be a central government?
A: Regarding how we handle it in the future, we will look to Tunisia and Egypt for an example. But there are enough educated Libyans inside and outside of the country to take care of things. The ones inside are better, but we will see them form a council of elders most likely. Gaddafi has made it more tribal over the past 42 years for sure. But there are tribes that are not so well-connected to him and those tribes, the ones that are not so well-connected to Gaddafi, will have more credibility.
NL: So you are suggesting that post-Gaddafi Libya may see a tribal government?
A: Tribal elders that are educated will form some councils. The more people that are in Tripoli, the more Libya will be united under a central government. But the more that this violence disperses people, the [greater] chance there is for outside tribes to strengthen their platforms. It will be a unified country. And there will be a lot of negotiation between potential leaders. It won’t turn violent again. People have seen far too much violence. The fear of anarchy is too strong. There is no obvious road planned [for the future government]. Gaddafi has polarized everything in the last few days. It is unfortunate for the ones who are in his government. If they come out against him in Tripoli they are good as dead. And they may be the best ones to eventually lead. You know, the defectors? Right? They have experience and they also don’t like Gaddafi.
NL: But how credible would they be? Even if they defected, isn’t there still a strong sense that they have been linked to Gaddafi, and thereby his policies, for decades and have quietly stood idle to his violence?
A: The bottom line is this: the existing government officials have lost lost their ability. It’s good to defect after you are safe. Right? No existing person in the government has taken the risk and said, “Okay, I am prepared to take a risk and stand up to this guy.” No. It hasn’t happened that way. Nobody from the existing regime will be involved for this reason. They have, as you said, been quiet while he has carried out his madness. Some leaders will come from the elder tribes, the business community, some from exiled Libyans, some from religious groups, pro-Western, modernizers ... you know, we don’t have a road map but we will find a way relatively peacefully.
NL: Ali, thanks for your time. We are glad that you are safe and willing to share your thoughts with us.
A: Thank you.
Photo Credit: mshamma