Sunday, November 6, 2011

Eid al-adha celebrated in Libya. Sheep safe in Sirte

By Alastair Macdonald

MISRATA, Libya | Sun Nov 6, 2011 7:23am EST

(Reuters) - Joy was tinged by past sadness, hope mingled with anxiety for the future as Libyans thronged their mosques at dawn Sunday to celebrate one of the great festivals of the Muslim year, Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.

Nowhere was the emotion and religious symbolism more acute than in Misrata. The city suffered heavy losses resisting a siege by the army of Muammar Gaddafi. Local forces, which took credit for last month's capture of the ousted strongman that ended in his death, are pushing for a big say in the new Libya.

Men streamed away from dawn prayers at the imposing mosque in Misrata's Zorugh neighborhood, preparing to feast on sheep slaughtered in a ritual inspired by Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God.

They spoke of the special savour of a first Eid free of Gaddafi's personal rule, of embracing a new democracy but also of sorrow for loved ones killed in the war.

"We are happy," said Mohammed Bashir, a 40-year-old merchant in the prosperous suburb as he exchanged handshakes with friends and neighbors, all dressed in fresh robes and new clothes for Eid. "But we are crying for our children we lost in the war."

"This Eid is different -- we killed Gaddafi," laughed Ali Sheikh, 86, his English spiced with a rich Texan drawl acquired

over decades working for American firms drilling for Libyan oil.
"Now we're all going home to kill our lambs.

"It's gonna be OK. We can fix this country real fast."

Ibrahim al-Assawi, 41, a university chemistry lecturer, said: "This Eid is a special Eid because Gaddafi is gone. So we ask God for our country to be better. We want the next government to be better. It can't be worse than Gaddafi."

Teacher Abdelsalam al-Madani, who at 40 was born two years after Colonel Gaddafi seized power, said simply: "This is a special Eid, because Eids before, there was no freedom."


Yet others, grieving for those killed in months of fighting and heavy bombardment of the rebellious old port city, remain anxious that a new government and new constitution have yet to be established as rival factions coalesce and jockey for power.

Mohammed Saleh al-Taher, a 33-year-old merchant, stopped at the nearby cemetery after the mosque to weep by the graves of a younger brother and a friend who died fighting alongside him in the battle with Gaddafi's forces for Libya's third city.

Gaddafi's fall and his death last month along the coast in Sirte, apparently at the hands of fighters from Misrata, was a comfort, he said: "That's the only thing that soothes my heart. That's the only thing, that their blood was not shed in vain."

Standing amid rows of cement-topped graves marked by simple breeze block headstones, some adorned with the new flag of "free Libya," he was anxious that Libyans should do justice to those considered to have died a martyr's death by building democracy.
"We hope people will honor them and we will have a good country that's fair and democratic," Taher said.

"These were young men, just 20 and 23, and they didn't sacrifice themselves just for politicians who just go on talking and looking after themselves, or for people to go on suffering."

At the neighborhood mosque, a substantial three-domed modern building in traditional style beneath its minaret, Moftah Abdelhamid, a 51-year-old engineer, bore the forehead callous that is the mark of frequent prayer.

He insisted that Eid, which also marks the end of the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, was still a day for joy, since martyrdom was itself a blessing.

"Martyrs in our hearts, martyrs in our blood, martyrs in our flesh, martyrs in our spirits. We will not forget them," he said, but added: "We don't cry for the martyrs."

An active member of Libya's long-suppressed Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood, an offshoot of the movement founded in Egypt in the 1920s, Abdelhamid said he was confident the six million Libyans, sitting on substantial oil and gas reserves, could look forward to a better future without Gaddafi.

The rise of Islamists following the Arab Spring revolts in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt has discomfited opponents who voice concern about their willingness to share power or accept equal rights for women.

But Abdelhamid insisted that Libya's Brotherhood, whose future electoral strength is hard to assess, would respect democratic balances of power and equality.
Citing the example of Turkey, he said: "We want democracy.

"Islamic law does not mean we are against civilization ... When we say Islamic law, we mean civilization."

He also dismissed fears, promoted by Gaddafi himself, that Libya may fall prey to traditional tribal and regional rivalries. The experience of standing up to dictatorship had, Abdelhamid said, brought Libyans together with a new sense of national pride: "Now, we love our flag," he said.

Some, notably among Gaddafi's tribal kin in his hometown of Sirte and among supporters in the capital Tripoli, suspect those from Misrata, Benghazi and other towns where the uprising took root of seeking dominance at their expense. Negotiations on a transitional government that can run elections are continuing.

But for Othman al-Hwel, 48, an engineer at a steel plant, the suffering of the war in Misrata has gendered a new spirit of cooperation among people that bodes well for Libya's future.

Speaking as neighbors in the street outside the mosque cut the throat of a sheep whose meat would be distributed to the needy, Hwel said that the traditional sense of charity and sharing at Eid had been heightened by the sufferings of 2011, and that people oppressed by Gaddafi felt a new self-confidence.

"This is very different from previous years," he said. "The war has brought people together ... When the blood flowed, when people were being killed, it turned 180 degrees. The people came together and felt solidarity ... There is now civil society."

Sheep Save in Sirte

In Gaddafi's town, grim mood is good for sheep
Sat Nov 5, 2011

By Alastair Macdonald

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - In the shattered Libyan town of Sirte, the hometown where Muammar Gaddafi met his end last month, the mood was grim on the eve of one of Islam's great festivals - the only good news was for the sheep.

As fellow Libyans prepared on Saturday to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, by giving thanks for liberation from Gaddafi's rule with the ritual slaughter of tens of thousands of the beasts, those waiting their fate at a roadside market in Sirte were finding few buyers.

Sirte, once Gaddafi's favored "capital of Africa," lies in ruins. His tribal kin and loyal supporters in what became the last bastion of his 42 years of personal power were in no mood to join festivities that many Libyans will see as recalling the sacrifices of a war that has won them freedom.

"Who can celebrate Eid at a time like this?" grumbled Ali al-Saadeq, 48, as he joined a group of men eyeing up small flocks corralled in makeshift wire pens or huddled on the backs of farmers' pickup trucks by a highway on the edge of town.

"A revolution is supposed to turn things from bad to good," he said as sellers manhandled their bleating livestock to show off their qualities and tempt reluctant buyers complaining of empty pockets. "But so far, we haven't seen anything good.

"People don't have money to buy sheep," said al-Saadeq, noting the going rate was still a hefty $200-$300 a head. "People don't even have money to buy bread for their kids. Who has money now? The banks were all destroyed in Sirte."

A few animals were changing hands - Sunday's dawn will see families across the Muslim world cutting sheep's throats for festive meals that recall the story of God's favor to Abraham in sparing his son. But as these were trussed by the legs and slung into the trunks of cars, many more remained unsold.

Standing at the improvised market - like much of downtown Sirte the regular trade ground was destroyed in fighting and, locals say, by vindictive rebel forces from other towns - Taher al-Mansuri, a 33-year-old engineer, said he would make a purchase, but this year only to share a sheep with a neighbor.

The dislocation of the civil war meant he, like many in Sirte, had not been paid for months and the festivities of former times, when the once modest fishing village enjoyed patronage and cash from the Gaddafi clan, could not be matched.

Due to the revolt that began in February, the men said, they knew of no one locally who had managed to make the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, whose end is marked by Eid al-Adha.

"It's not the right time for someone whose house has been destroyed or has lost a relative, blown up or shot," said Mansuri. "I don't think that a family would want to celebrate Eid when they have a relative also who is missing."

Though few were prepared to venture avowed nostalgia for Gaddafi - barely a mile from where he was captured, tormented and killed by fighters for the National Transitional Council (NTC) - the anger against his enemies bubbled over.

"They've rounded up prisoners and killed them," fumed Mehdi Juma, 40, referring to at least one case where international human rights monitors have accused NTC forces of suspected atrocities against pro-Gaddafi fighters who held on in Sirte for two months after the capital Tripoli was overrun.

Deep tribal and regional rivalries, notably between the people of Sirte and those of Misrata, Zawiya or Benghazi whose triumphant slogans are spray-painted across the bullet- and shell-scarred walls of Gaddafi's hometown, underlie fears that Libya, for all the postwar euphoria elsewhere, faces trouble in the future, even the risk of an insurgency or more civil war.

Unconfirmed reports in the area on Saturday spoke of two people killed near Sirte by suspected Gaddafi sympathizers. The talk added to a climate of fear that ubiquitous checkpoints and patrols by the motley forces backing the NTC have done little to alleviate, at any rate in the area around Sirte.

Inside the town itself, few residents appeared to have returned to homes, many of which have been damaged by fires as well as by explosions and the effects of shrapnel.

One group of young men, who said they were mostly students and supporters of the anti-Gaddafi cause, worked with a bulldozer to clear a street of rubble, but there was little other sign of activity. Many residents appeared still to be sheltering with relatives in the arid countryside round about.

The odd car passed along Sirte's seafront promenade, once a showcase for Gaddafi when he hosted international summits and foreign dignitaries. They crunched, cautiously, over blasted concrete and countless cartridge and shell cases.

Surveying the ruin of what had been his minimarket, 22-year-old Mohammed Mahfouz was in despair: "How can I fix this? There's no electricity, no water. It's beyond repair.

"A revolution that comes like this, wrecks buildings, steals and loots and writes obscene things on the walls of people's homes and destroys everything in its path and sets fire to houses, is this a revolution?

"I don't feel like it's Eid. It's just a normal day, a depressing day."

Along the street, where streetlights stand crooked in the warm sea breeze, reduced to the punctured texture of cheese-graters in testimony to the hails of metal that flew along the beachfront last month, Zia Mohammed, 36, stood disconsolate in the wreckage of her home, her children bewildered around her.

Husband Mohammed Ramadan, standing in the charred and still reeking wreckage of his sitting room, said it had been deliberately torched by NTC fighters who suspected him - wrongly, he said - of being a supporter of Gaddafi, a common complaint across the seaside town that is home to 100,000.

"We have nothing to give to the kids, nothing to eat," his wife Zia said. "We have no gas to cook with. We have nothing.

"Here, there is no Eid."

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