Gaddafi … the Libyan government’s tentative reform measures to date are seen as inadequate by many young people. Photograph: Sabri Elmhedwi/EPA
Two months ago, the mere thought of freedom was out of the question in Libya. But today, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have sowed the hope of freedom in the hearts of each and every one of us.
For us Libyans, Egypt showed that what happened in Tunisia was not an exception, or something that cannot be repeated. The people who said “Egypt is not going to be another Tunisia” were proved wrong. Watching these epics made us believe that happy endings can happen beyond cinema screens, and that low-quality video clips published on Facebook showing events in the streets and the spontaneous words of demonstrators can have a deeper impact than the most influential works of Hollywood.
Shortly after Hosni Mubarak resigned, I said to an Egyptian friend of mine that the most beautiful thing the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have given us is the return of the courage to dream and speak out about our dreams and our rights without being ridiculed as if we are tilting at windmills.
This is what the Libyan people are doing now; today, 17 February, is the Libyan “day of anger“. It coincides with the anniversary of what started as a peaceful demonstration in 2006 being met with various forms of repression, including live bullets and tear gas. The Libyan youth have chosen this day to express their anger and demand their rights, despite the very real threat of violence.
The Libyan regime has tried to preempt these protests to salvage anything that can be salvaged and to discourage Libyan youth. The regime, after all, has the best knowledge of the deteriorating conditions of Libyans and their lost rights.
These lost rights include the lack of freedom of expression and are coupled with deteriorating living conditions, high unemployment rates among young people, and the spread of all forms of government corruption such as bribery, nepotism, negligence and ineptitude. The police are corrupt, the health service is corrupt, the education system is corrupt.
The government is aware of these issues, and it knows it caused them, which is why it is taking desperate measures to protect itself, instead of announcing its intention to take real measures for reform. How deceitful!
The measures the government has taken are regarded by many observers, including many young people, as insufficient for their ambitions and dreams of reform. The regime’s decision to distribute loans to young people did not receive much attention, especially because every Libyan knows that these loans will eventually be in the hands of those in power and their relatives.
This is why young people went out to protest on Wednesday in many Libyan cities, mostly in eastern Libya, to tell the government that from this day on, you have to fear your people and not the opposite. We heard the unfolding news of clashes between anti-regime demonstrators on one side and supporters of the regime and security forces on the other.
When I went out on Wednesday morning and wandered the streets of Tripoli, I noticed the heavy presence of various police forces, and also the demonstrations of some regime supporters, who – as rumour has it – are paid to go out in small-scale demonstrations and shout obsolete hypocritical slogans. Some of them put pictures of Gaddafi on their cars and roamed the city with scant regard for other drivers, as they not only disrespect the law but consider themselves to be the law itself.
I, as a humble young Libyan, tell the Libyan government that the Libyan youth are not naive and will not be fooled by promises of food and drink because man does not live by bread alone. The Libyan government has to take the right path for the first time: protect the country from ruin, embark on real reform, and give the people their freedom and rights.
• This article was commissioned in co-operation with Meedan.