Life for Libyans: Chaos and queues

Khadija El-Rabti , Friday 23 Aug 2019

Daily life for Libyans is an endless struggle, draining an entire generation

Blackout in Tripoli
File Photo: A boy eats in candlelight during a blackout in Tripoli, Libya (Photo by: Reuters)

Eight years have passed since Libya’s revolutionary contribution to the Arab Spring. Now a state with an absence of law, and more importantly a state lacking the simplest of life essentials, life has never been more complicated for Libyans.

A country bordered by the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea, known for having an exceptional coastline, and a country impressively rich in oil, it’s natural to expect that Libya would be flourishing. But it is not.

Never-Ending Queues

As a new day dawns, and sun rays peep through the bullet holes in stone buildings of the Libyan capital Tripoli, people queue up in endless lines.

It has become a normal aspect in their day-to-day lives; Libyans start their day in queues and end their day in queues, if not in the same queue from day to night. The irony appears in that what they’re so desperately lining up for is what the country’s most rich in — petrol.

Sixty-seven-year-old Lutfi Mohamed stands in line, in between the crammed cars, for a petrol refill at 7am. “I see chaos, I see disorder, I see weapons and many times I see violence, especially when the wait gets too long,” said the Tripoli-born Mohamed.

The morning line-up can even last up to five hours a day, that is if some have not already stayed the night to ensure their turn. According to Mohamed, when others do not get a chance at a fill-up, they go as far as 60 kilometres outside of Tripoli in order to fill their tanks.

Women are no exception; if they’re not lining up for tank refills, they’re lining up outside banks in hope of getting some of their money out.

“I brought my own chair and sat in front of the bank, I knew it was going to take a long time, but I had never imagined I would be sat there until 3am in the morning,” said 45-year-old Najia Ali.

The lack of liquidity in Libya has left many like Ali, a mother of four, sat on pavements for days to get access to their money.

Lack Of Healthcare

At a time in need of medical help, 80-year-old Aisha Mohamed, who lives in north Tripoli, went through quite a shocking incident.

“A couple of months back, I was so poorly that my son insisted on taking me to a local hospital, and as the nurse reached for my arm to take a blood sample, I couldn’t help but gasp, cover my arm and shout in disbelief,” said Mohamed.

“The nurse was about wipe my hand with a piece of cotton wool that had already been used and even still had blood stains from a previous patient. When I asked her about this unacceptable situation, that’s when the shocking reality hit me: hospitals in Libya simply don’t have enough resources,” she added.

Basic medical supplies, such as gloves, cotton, syringes and bandages etc, are normally expected to be provided by local hospitals. This is no longer the case in conflict-ridden Libya.

Individuals are expected to come into a hospital with their own bag full of medical supplies. This adds to the long list of problems that Libyans have to anxiously think about as they get on with their daily lives.

Life In The Dark

Citizens have become numb to what others would describe as an unliveable state. One day there’s water, whereas on another it is completely cut off. Libyans have learnt to adapt to such abnormal conditions.

Libyans have witnessed days and nights without electricity. Blackouts last up to 20 hours and this is not just a usual power cut that could happen from time-to-time anywhere in the world. Electricity is cut every day.

On a daily basis people try to prepare themselves for hours without light and air conditioning. Although some people have been able to buy electricity generators for their homes. The majority cannot afford to do so.

Life goes on for those without electricity. Some students go out in the daylight to study. Electronics have been damaged due to constant power cuts, so fridges and microwaves are often used as storage areas. As the rest of the world modernises, Libya goes back in time.

Life As A Student

Whether school or university, there is no specific schedule; the semester starts and ends whenever it’s safe. Many times, students have been asked to stay at home for weeks on end. Their academic year gets stretched out.

“My last exam has been postponed to mid-August and even then, we still can’t help but worry, as it is very likely for exams to be postponed again and again,” said medical student Sara Abdul.

Twenty-six-year-old Abdul was supposed to graduate around two years ago but her graduation process is still delayed because of the country’s disorder.

She is just one example of many students who have become psychologically and physically drained from Libya’s continuously unstable state.

Libya Times Two

Libya’s story is much more knotted and complicated than what other people may think. Some Libyans believe that the reasons behind this tangled situation come down to the fact that Libya is currently a country that has two parliaments, two governments, two armies and two prime ministers.

Conflict rises, sometimes in the form of violence, when either side attempts to impose their different ideologies.

“Libya will never peacefully settle if there are fights over who makes the final decision. At this rate, we won’t get anywhere, not even for another 50 years,” said Lutfi Mohamed.

Libya’s political health seems to be in a decline with chances of the country making it a smooth transition to becoming a functioning democracy being abruptly low.

A diverse proportion of the public worry that the country could be split, since one half of the country is being controlled by a UN-backed government, and the other is being led by Commander Khalifa Haftar.

Unfortunately, Libyans have grown to accept the economic, social and psychological hardships that come their way. They have given up on many facets of a normal life. Dodging bullets and simply existing is enough.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Life for Libyans: Chaos and queues 

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