In journalism,”dumb” questions often get smart answers.
In Tripoli in recent days, I have repeatedly asked Libyans if they think
Moammar Gadhafi or his politically ambitious sons can one day make a comeback.
People look at me with incredulity, as if the foreigner has a learning disability.
Impossible, never, he is a criminal, are some of the responses.
Rajeb Alghriani believed the solution was to talk loudly. He was helping his son clean up a burned out police station next to his house.
He shouted, slowly, in my face. “Finish. Forty-two years in our head. Dictator. Finish. Finish.”
And a comeback for the Gadhafi clan?
“Gadhafi? Heh, heh, heh. Never. Never. Never.”
Then, when he discovered that we could communicate more easily in Italian, he
invited me to dinner.
Interviewing at a road block, it was a French reporter’s turn to play Agent
Why, he asked, was everyone in Tripoli shouting
“Yahia Gadhafi — Up with Gadhafi” – only one month ago?
Missaoud Barouni, a 56-year-old retired oil engineer sitting at the wheel of
his car, grew serious.
“In Tripoli, people said ‘Long Live Gadhafi’ because they were scared.
Before, if I said anything else, they could come after me, my children.”
The same question went to Mohammed Abou Gabha, who was manning the checkpoint. Although aged 21, he had a wiser understanding of how to survive under a dictatorship than some people three times his age.
On my audio recording, his voice jumps off the tracks: “You are TV guys, right?
And, you are recording us, right? If Gadhafi see that I say: ‘Down Gadhafi!’ That is not good. They will catch me and put me in prison and
kill me and all my family.”
Since the 1970s, Gadhafi has projected around the world the image of Libya
as a militant, aggressive nation at war with Europe and the United States.
In that light, it is startling how quickly Libyans have reverted to form as
a mellow Mediterranean people with great smiles and hospitality.
I have passed through 100 checkpoints on the strength of my Western face.
For the one time I was asked for my passport, I have been invited five times
into people’s homes for iftar, the post-sundown dinner that breaks the
Ramadan fast. In a nation short of everything, these invitations are
“America — good”, armed young men say, waving me through checkpoints. They apologize for their rudimentary English, saying that Gadhafi wanted to keep them isolated from the world.
With 90 percent of its population strung along the beach, the new Libya
seems to about to turn its back on Africa, and return to its geographical
destiny – as a Mediterranean nation.