Activists in Gaddafi's capital live in fear and hope

Reuters , Saturday 5 Mar 2011

Libyan anti-government activists never sleep in the same place twice, never give last names for fear of arrest

Libyan anti-government activist Hisham never sleeps in the same place twice for fear of arrest.

Frustrated by ten years of unemployment and inspired by revolutions in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, the engineer had high hopes Libya's revolt would deliver the quick downfall of Muammar Gaddafi and a brighter future.

Instead, the uprising has brought grave dangers and uncertainty.

"I am on a wanted list," said Hisham, 31. "They could pick me up at any moment. I keep switching houses."

Hisham is one of the few activists willing to speak openly. He declined to give his last name for fear of reprisals against his family.

Rebels have taken control of much of eastern Libya. But there are no signs the revolt will be sweeping through western Libya soon.

Tripoli's working class district of Tajoura, where Hisham lives, is one of the few places where people dare challenge the government, but at a high cost.

"My brother was arrested four days ago. Militiamen came into our home and said they would arrest my mother if he didn't give himself up so he did," said Hisham.

Libya has emerged as the bloodiest of the Arab revolts. Nearly 400 people, including 100 policemen, have been killed, Libyan security officials say. Other reports put casualties at more than 1,000. Libyan officials say unrest is a ploy by al Qaeda and the West to destabilize the country, and deny using deliberate force against civilians.

Forty-one years of Gaddafi's authoritarian rule have left Hisham and other activists with no opposition figures to turn to as they try to keep the revolt alive. Most of Gaddafi's opponents are in exile or jail.

"We don't know the details we just fight."

Libya's activists have big dreams, and little else. Just getting their message across is a struggle. Every time they scribble anti-Gaddafi graffiti on walls, security forces paint over it.

"This wall was red. Then it was white. Now it is green," said Hisham.

At the moment he doesn't seem too concerned about formulating a concrete plan to change Libya. Even if Gaddafi is toppled, Libyans will have to deal with complex, potentially combustible issues such as the role of the military, tribal rivalries and control of oil. Libya's state institutions have been purged of Gaddafi opponents so getting qualified people to run the country will be a challenge.

"We want freedom," said Hisham who took a risk and attended an anti-government protest in Tajoura, where young men with scarves wrapped around their heads held up posters demanding the release of those in detention.

"We don't know the details. We will just fight," he said.

Gaining the upper hand will be difficult. A man named Hadi said he was held for 24 hours by security forces because he had taken part in another protest.

"They blindfolded me and beat with a rifle butt. There were six teenagers with me. No one knows when they will be released," he said.

A few minutes later security forces fired teargas and rubber bullets and ended a short protest. Then the dreaded pro-government militiamen who activists say terrorise them showed up in sports utility vehicles.

"They try to make it difficult for us to be activists," said Hisham. "They drive around neighbourhoods and point their guns and tell people to avoid protests. Mothers tell their children to stay home because they love them."

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