Archive for March 2011
Video from our ignominious retreat. Narrative to come.
As the first of Qadaffi’s forces reached Benghazi on March 19th, Small World News was pressed to evacuate the city and head east. A grim day was lightened by the actions of people along the road, who offered water, snacks, and the very keys to their homes to the columns of fleeing cars. Anti-Qadaffi demonstrations took place in every town we passed, a continuation of the non-violent resistance that has been the foundation of the movement since February 17th.
Today we received the news that Mohammed Nabbous, a citizen media activist and one of the great figures of the February 17th youth revolutionary movement, was killed by a Qadaffi sniper while covering the first hours of fighting in Benghazi. His death represents a terrible loss for the movement and for the future of Libya.
We met Nabbous briefly, soon after arriving in Benghazi. As a leader and a member of the Transitional National Council, he gathered a progressive group of activists around him and organized the institution known as the February 17th Revolution Youth Media Center. In that grimy warren of hallways and former interrogation cells, reclaimed from the regime and plastered floor to ceiling with graffiti slogans and cartoons, his name was intoned gravely, even reverently.
In the early days of the rebellion, when regime reprisals were still a possibility for dissenters and fear was widespread, Nabbous single-handedly built a megaphone to the outside world— part television studio, internet relay, and command and control center, streaming images from Benghazi’s Tahrir Square 24 hours a day.
His bravery inspired others to work to give the revolution a voice, and they turned to him constantly for direction; his cell phone rang perpetually. One look could tell you he got very little sleep, if any, in the constant manic flurry of activity required to carry the revolution’s message forward. Despite this he found the time to address our needs, and thank us with deep sincerity for coming to Libya.
He cut a striking figure, tall and suave with a British accent acquired at Oxford, where he studied engineering, and spoke with quickfire brilliance. His was a singular dedication to the revolution and a better future for his country, for which he gave his life, and we mourn him.
Here’s a video I shot last night that should firmly answer the question, “Do Libyans support foreign intervention in the form of the no-fly zone?”
I visited the Libyan International Medical University to see what preparations are being made to face the impact of attacks on Benghazi. A young doctor showed me a free first aid training program and shared some thoughts about Libya’s situation. Video
[Cross-posted at Small World News]
Since March 11, Small World News has been in Benghazi, Libya, with a generous grant from Access getting Alive.in/Libya off the ground. We’ve been training a team of citizen video journalists recruited among local youth. In a short week, we led participants through the basics of video production and overcame the technological limitations (very low bandwidth) imposed by Libya’s current crisis to open a citizen-sourced channel of communication to the international community that we hope will only widen in the days to come.
A primary motivation for our journey here was an intense curiosity about the nature of the young people who are remaking the face of the Middle East under a banner of the universal values of freedom, dignity, and self-determination. What we were hearing seemed too good to be true. And yet, from the experience that we have had here so far, it seems to be a reality.
In our travels to countries afflicted by violent conflict we have always been able to meet good friends who defy the strange and noxious preconceptions we seem to carry about the people who live in the “dangerous” places of the world. Libya has been no exception. Our partners are doctors, engineers, teachers, retail workers and computer technicians whose lives have changed radically in a few short weeks. The uprising has been an unprecedented social transformation.
The civic spirit unleashed by the February 17th revolution has been humbling to witness. The spontaneity of the uprising coupled with subsequent self-organizing efforts has restored to many a sense of ownership of their own country. It has released a long frustrated desire among ordinary citizens to correct the impressions that they fear are widely held about them, which derive from their long association with the rule of Muammar Qadaffi. What many express is the desire to now show what they consider to be their true face to the world. They play the bass, appreciate modern Italian design, and watch the latest films over hacked Chinese satellite streams; they don’t live in desert tents, ride camels, or belong to Al Qaeda.
Our aim was to facilitate this desire for self-expression by organizing a production team; training in the use of inexpensive, lightweight, and versatile media tools; developing an effective method for uploading content given local conditions; and building a platform on the web and its social media arms for publishing internationally.
Despite the Benghazi-based opposition authorities representing a radically more open system and promising further reforms, it’s been a tricky situation to negotiate given widespread suspicions about secret regime agents and saboteurs. The most powerful motivation to overcome what’s been a difficult situation has been the kindness, enthusiasm, and potential of the friends we’ve made. No matter what happens next, that alone makes this worthwhile.
Since the last update, there have been many incidents, rumors, waves of paranoia, dread, elation, and other drops on the emotional roller coaster. What there have not been, either from the international press, the Revolutionary authorities, or the Qadaffi regime, are many hard and verifiable facts.
From my position, much of what is being reported is worded in a fashion that is either misleading or overblown.
I can mention as some bit of reassurance that all the professional security consultants that are within our reach do not seem concerned at all that Benghazi will fall to Qadaffi, for 36 hours at the very least (and that was a worst case scenario). Benghazi is safe, for now. It is neither “under siege” or about to be, by all eyewitness reports that I have heard today.
I believe that our exit is quite close at hand, however, as we are fast approaching the threshold of sensible cost/benefit analysis that I set for myself mentally. What’s difficult is that at the very moment when Brian has pulled a team together and they are starting to fire on all cylinders, I am pulling him to leave. The young men and women on the team are just starting to put out some amazing material. And since the pool of global media is smaller on the ground, opportunities for us are growing.
That said, I reaffirm that our ride into Egypt is on call 24 hours and we are ready to go.
From today: A Benghazi Girl Scout speaks. Girl Scouts of America, do you hear this?
Since a lot of people seem to be wondering, I just wanted to give an update about our situation. Currently I’m in the hotel where we’ve been staying in Benghazi along with much of the international press. The news for the past few days has been bad for the revolution, which has fallen back from a few key towns and is now defending Ajdabiya, a city that lies at the crossroads of the highway that leads north to Benghazi and east to Tobruk and the Egyptian border. The concern from our standpoint is that Qadaffi’s forces will break through and either attack Benghazi directly, or cut across to Tobruk and seal off our escape route to Egypt. In that case we would need to get on a boat organized to evacuate internationals, not an enticing scenario.
We are obviously closely monitoring the situation and are ready to leave at a moment’s notice. We feel that the efforts we’ve made so far would be lost if we aren’t able to finish a few more things. Despite the sense of crisis, our exit routes are still assured and all we are able to confirm is that Ajdabiya was shelled, but not that it’s been occupied, and there’s no sense that Qadaffi’s troops are advancing past it.
The short of it is, when the bulk of the media agrees to go, we will go; I am not personally interested in sticking around past a point that is sensible. More soon.
A brief peek at the women of the revolution, which I shot and edited as a training exercise for one of Alive in Libya’s new trainee correspondents.