Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Double Festivities for Libyan Diaspora
A rebel combatant heads down a road in eastern Libya, March 2011. Many Libyan expatriates are now planning their own homecomings. (Photo: Nasser Nouri/Flickr)
All the Libyans I know here in London are itching to go back this week or next. And the rebels’ arrival in Tripoli just about coincides with Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, so everyone is even more excited.
We are ecstatic because Muammar Gaddafi seems to be on his way out. But of course, the situation is chaotic right now. I personally am nervous about flying to Tunis and then driving across country through Libya. I know there is going to be evidence of the fighting all around me. I know it’s going to be hard to see.
I was born in Tripoli but grew up in London. My parents are here, but all my uncles, aunts and cousins are in Libya and we used to spend many holidays out there.
The expectation was never that we would stay in the UK. We visited at least twice a year for a few weeks at a time. Even during the period of embargoes we still went back, even if we had to go via Egypt, Tunisia or Malta.
The community here has a very strong connection to Libya. Everyone goes back there for holidays, to get married, even for funerals. We grow up with a foot in each place.
I have always thought about returning, and so have a lot of my friends. After the economy opened up in 2004, many people with dual citizenship went back there to work.
I am planning to travel to Libya within the next week, and many people I know are planning to do the same. Several have told me that as soon as they heard the rebels were in Tripoli, they went to their personnel departments to see how many days they could take off work to go out there.
Eventually, I plan to move back to help rebuild my country. It’s been hard to be a mere onlooker on events in Libya when people on the ground there have been sacrificing their lives to bring about change.
My relatives in eastern Libya have been more or less getting on with their lives. In Benghazi there is a level of normality – the shops are open and businesses and banks are running.
But things have been very different for my family members in Tripoli. It’s been surreal talking to them on the phone. In the past. all they would say was “everything’s fine” because of the fear of being overheard.
In reality, life has been hard in Tripoli in recent months. There have been no more than very basic foodstuffs in the shops, and a severe shortage of petrol, despite this being an oil-rich country.
Tripoli is the kind of sprawling city where you need a car. There is little public transport, few pavements and it’s incredibly hot in the summer. Without a car you can’t really go anywhere. People have rediscovered their bicycles but it isn’t very practical.
Many people were working for foreign companies which left when the uprising began, so they have been sitting at home, unable to go anywhere. The internet has been intermittent, the phone lines dodgy. They have felt very isolated and scared.
Usually by this time, in the last weeks of Ramadan, the shops are clogged with new products, clothes and items for feasting. Children’s shops, in particular, sell out because it’s a tradition to buy new clothes for kids.
This year, it is not going to be quite as materialistic; it will be a more basic festival for everyone. But if the fighting stops, it will be the most amazing Eid celebration ever.
Sarah Giaziri is a 32-year old programme officer at the Rory Peck Trust.
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