A Libyan doctor (whose name will remain anonymous for the safety of his family) relates his experiences in Tripoli since the start of the uprising after safely leaving the city on July 7th, 2011.
LYM was able to speak to him and gather his eyewitness accounts and personal impressions of the city.
After leaving Tripoli, a city under strict control of the Gaddafi regime, the doctor describes how surprisingly difficult it was to adjust to his new found freedom to speak freely and access the internet without the fear of being traced and hunted down by the regime.
With the start of the protests in Benghazi, the doctor explains that he was in the Eastern stronghold working on a research project with his team and had to return immediately to Tripoli on the 19th of February to avoid any danger. Needless to say, he didn’t realize danger would follow them to Tripoli.
On the evening of February 20th, 2011 at 10:00 pm, internal security of the city were told to turn in their guns claiming that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela. Until 2 am that evening, hundreds of activists believing the allegations to be true gathered in the “Green Square”. Shortly thereafter, regime forces armed with machine guns opened fire on the protesters killing hundreds. When the doctor and his colleagues boarded ambulances with the intention of aiding the wounded activists; they were denied permission by the regime and prevented from doing so.
Furthermore, anti-regime activists and anyone suspected by the regime of dissent in Tripoli were being arrested and imprisoned prior to the 19th of February and daily ever since. If a pursued individual was not located, regime forces arrested one of their family members in their place.
The doctor, expecting that medical attention would be required after the brutal onslaught of the regime on unarmed civilians, took his post at the Tripoli Medical Center.
He recalls seeing horrific wounds inflicted by anti-aircraft bullets and countless dead bodies, “I even saw a body with a bullet wound straight through the skull, half of it was gone”.
When asked about the availability of everyday basic necessities in the city, the doctor explains that although things may be available their prices have seen dramatic inflation.
For example, the price of flour, which would normally cost 5 dinars, is ten times its normal price at 50 dinars. Fuel for stoves also increased from 1.5 dinars to 30 dinars.
Fuel lines apart from being extremely long (he quoted that one can expect to wait five days and nights before buying fuel) are also extremely dangerous as tensions rise due to the restrictions enforced on regular residents in contrast with the utter lack of regulation of those working for the regime. He relates a tragic story of a man who had waited in line for fuel for days and expressed his frustration upon seeing Gaddafi loyalists cut the line. Gaddafi soldiers seized him and violently assaulted him. At one point he was pushed onto the adjacent road, run over, and killed by oncoming traffic before he was able to get up or move out of harm’s way. An uproar erupted from others waiting in line, neighbours, and residents of the area who took part in anti-regime protests in response to this incident.
Communications and Media
The propagation of information through the use of telephones was made impossible due to the regime’s efforts to instill fear in the population and monitor any potential dissidents by tapping the phone lines. The doctor explained that news was still able spread like wildfire in Tripoli primarily via word of mouth. “If the residents of Tripoli don’t know of an event within hours of its occurrence; they would have heard it by the next day for sure”. The residents of Tripoli are well aware of the activity within the city-which he describes to be frequent and widespread-and within the nation.
With respect to the pro-Gaddafi protests (Million Man March for Gaddafi held on July 1st, 2011) just days before the doctor was able to leave the city, he reports that one of his relatives who was working near the square described the crowd as insignificant. The numbers he says were greatly exaggerated as well as the visuals plastered on Libyan State TV, “the Green Square was broadcast to be a lot wider than it truly is. Besides, a few thousand protesters are nothing against the millions who stand against Gaddafi”.
Façade of Normalcy
The doctor relates how the city is wearing a façade of normalcy, “Tripoli looks normal but it’s not”. The residents of Tripoli are scared and depressed by the actions of Gaddafi’s regime but resolute that his end is near, “it is only a matter of time [before Gaddafi is gone]”.
Schools are not operating normally; some principals, risking their own safety, have asked their students not to return. Al-Fateh University professors attempted –without success-to delay or prevent students from returning to school by postponing exams.
Continuous gunshot fire is heard every night from1 am until 5 am as regime soldiers fire shots into the air not only disseminating fear in Tripoli residents but harming anyone who is unfortunate enough to be outdoors at the time who may potentially be hit by a falling bullet. The doctor describes how one of his friend’s brothers was struck on his shoulder narrowly missing his heart by a falling bullet while sitting in his car one evening.
He describes that even with Gaddafi’s iron fist of control over the city fortified with checkpoints set up throughout the city, people are doing their best to resist and aid the revolution. Confidential arrangements are being made including the collection of money and equipment in preparation for activity to come.
When asked if the residents of Tripoli were avid viewers of new independent media in Libya including the Libya Al-Ahrar channel based in Doha, Qatar he responded that although people are viewing independent media they are still weary of the regime. The doctor explained how Al Jazeera was strictly banned in the city; when a few doctors were found viewing the channel in a staff lounge of one hospital, the regime removed all televisions from that hospital. Anyone viewing independent media, like Libya Al-Ahrar and Al Jazeera, even at home, risks being discovered by the regime and arrested.
The doctor also describes personal incidents where extended family members were reported to regime officials by their neighbours. “My cousins were reported [by their neighbours] to be harbouring weapons and anti-regime sentiments. The regime sent soldiers to their home twice to investigate finding nothing”. Residents are weary of watchful neighbours.
Treating the Enemy
The doctor’s descriptions of his experiences in hospitals reveal disturbing truths. He admits that he had to work in hospitals of Tripoli where injured Gaddafi soldiers were treated; having to treat men who had just returned from the frontlines where they has just been terrorizing Libyan civilians. “It was difficult to be in such a situation but it was a humanitarian need and we treated them”. He was struck to find that some of them were very young suffering from severe injuries like missing limbs and explained how doctors would grant some cases with medical leave so that they did not have to return to the front line.
Call for Medical Expertise
Due to the shortage of specialized doctors, many patients are having limbs amputated to avoid the spread of infection. The doctor stressed a shortage of vascular surgeons and neurosurgeons and calls for more assistance from doctors with this specialization in order to provide better more effective treatment to patients.
Upon completing his work outside Libya the doctor plans on returning to the capital to continue in the struggle to liberate the country.
Account collected and written by Ayat Mneina.