"When I grow up, I want to be just like you guys," this increasingly flaccid middle-aged American visitor joked to his teenage-to-early-30's Libyan interlocutors, as we parted last night and promised to meet again soon to continue our dialogue on our chosen subject of "What is happening in Libya, and why?"
Except I wasn't entirely joking and I felt wistful as I reflected on our latest five-hour conversation that seemed like it began only 30 minutes earlier. Rather like one of those rare college classes during which both the professor's lecture and the classroom discussion were so interesting that you felt disappointed when the class ended.
One thing most foreigners and the local population agree on in Western Libya is that there were few signs in early February that eastern Libya would erupt as it did and many are still unclear what and who caused it and why and how. But when half a dozen bright, energetic, nationalistic Libyan under- and post-graduate students agreed to a no-holds barred discussion, it was a real joy to participate.
Specific questions posed and opinions expressed by Libyan students in Tripoli and its suburbs, cannot be said to represent attitudes in the east of Libya, one third of the country still largely under rebel control. This, despite the Al Fatah student's insistence that a majority of their friends, family and tribes from Benghazi and the East, even with that region's veneer of salafist- and jihadist-entrenched pockets, would largely agree with their views.
Eastern Libya has a long history of antipathy toward the Tripoli government from the days (1951) when the crumbling British Empire installed, with Italy's agreement, Idriss Senussi as Monarch to look after its interests. The King of Libya, Idriss I, was overthrown by the Colonel Qaddafi-led Fatah Revolution in 1969. Today, one of the goals of some of the groups comprising the "National Transition Council" is the restoration of the Monarchy, promoted by the Senussi tribe. Students here in Tripoli report that some of their relatives and friends in the Senussi tribe based in Benghazi know that Al Qaeda elements will oppose a Monarchy even if they are currently mute and for now sticking to their CIA supplied script on this subject of democracy and human rights for all, including women.
Our "Libyan Forum 101" as we agreed to title it, asked the Libyan students to formulate and table for discussion key questions that they believe must be answered in order to understand and resolve what it called here, "Our crisis."
The questions turned out to be the easy part and reflect widespread sentiment in the West of Libya, whether or not they resonate in Benghazi and its environs.
My young friend Hassan, an English literature student quickly offered three tough questions for group discussion, after apologizing for being late and explaining that security had increased on the streets of Tripoli following reports of rebel infiltrations and sabotage that Qaddafi had eluded to on TV the night before. Hassan repeated what we have heard from others, which was that there was some gunfire downtown and an Al Jazeera report of a bomb blast at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel under construction.
Ismail, a business student, scoffed at the
mention of Al Jazeera, which like the BBC and CNN are widely thought to be
highly biased if not Rebel propagandists whose reports have sometimes been rife
with disinformation if not outright lies.
BBC's website is blocked yet again from the Internet by the government here
and the BBC Tripoli bureau just got its new replacement producer, Daniel
Fisher, a pleasant fellow who introduced himself this morning apparently mistaking
me for Jack Nicholson.
Daniel's arrival follows Libyan government complaints and the departure of the BBC's previous reporter who following the one-million-plus pro-Qaddafi rally at Green Square on 11/9/11, which lasted well into the evening, reported that those he saw leaving Tripoli the next morning were "fleeing Tripoli and that the Qaddafi stronghold could "implode at any time." That BBC report was total nonsense. Those families the BBC and CNN reporters claimed were "fleeing" were simply returning to the Tripoli suburbs after having partied and slept over in the city.
Hassan tabled his questions:
1. Who appointed the Libyan Contact Group to get involved in our country and what legitimacy does its NATO memberships have to order the UN's Secretary General (7/17/11) to impose conditions for resolving the crisis without both the Tripoli and Benghazi groups involved?
2. Does NATO, having set up the LCG, have the right to order around the UN Security Counciland the UN Secretary-General and his staff?
Amani, who just got a job with Libyan Sports TV, tabled several questions for discussion:
1. How can the US and NATO pretend to respect international law when NATO has killed more than 1,100 Libya civilians?
2. Is NATO interpreting the language of UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973 as its sees fit and using military operations to achieve political goals?
3. Much like it has done in Afghanistan, the UN Resolutions concerning our country limited NATO involvement to establishing a "no-fly zone" which was achieved in two days. Did the UN authorize the additional four months of bombing or the expansion of the original mission to numerous assassination attempts on our leaders and massive infrastructure destruction?
Amani added: "Also, why was there no effort to send a UN fact-finding mission to our country to really investigate the false sensationalist media and rebel reports coming from the rebels despite repeated Libyan, Arab and African calls for them to come and see and establish the facts?"