In Tripoli – Dumb Questions Get Smart Answers

Posted August 30th, 2011 at 2:23 pm (UTC+0)

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.

Mohammed Abou Gabha, manning a checkpoint, is only 21 year old but he has a Phd in surviving in a dictatorship. VOA Photo: J. Nedelii

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.

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

2 responses to “In Tripoli – Dumb Questions Get Smart Answers”

  1. fidel says:

    its Interesting how you describe the Libyan rebels as friendly and hospitable with a big smile, you also mentioned that on the strength of your white European face they let you pass a check point without checking your passport, I say, how very nice of them but as a journalist have you been following up how the rebels have been treating anyone with a black skin? even the indigenous black Libyans are not spared of the mob lynching and killing that was meted out to all the African immigrant workers in the open.
    But you are too busy to tell us ” 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.” your reason for supporting the rebels are very clear to see from your white face.

  2. Gennady says:

    It’s a feeling of loss
    that I experience at the present time
    with the blog of “Russia Watch” having been run out of steam with the second article in a row devoted to an irrelevant theme of Libya on the blog (to a simple-minded Russian soul).
    I don’t mean to diminish the significance of changes going on in Libya. But maybe it would be more appropriate to discuss elsewhere.
    Even the fact that the USSR had prolonged hearty relation with the ousted authoritarian leader can’t excuse the irrelevance.
    With similar approach one may write about any of about 200 countries of the world in the blog of “Russia Watch”
    for surely Russia has had some kind of ties with any of them.
    It looks as if
    for the VOA nowadays Russia has no its own urgent problems with Duma’s and Presidents elections looming,
    with economy, science, health care, education and political process stagnated,
    with Russia almost not being involved into globalization.
    To enlist just a few of current issues.



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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