DURATION: 63 min.
What was the Libyan uprising? A popular revolution that put an end to a tyrannical regime in the most absolute way? Or a well organised international intervention against a leader, who had become annoying? “Days of Rage” narrates minute-by-minute what transpired from the revolution’s beginning to its very end at the battlefields, as well as on a diplomatic level. It investigates into the causes of this revolution and NATO’s intervention, while at the same time tries to shed light on the present and future of a country, which for 42 years was synonymous with Muammar Gaddafi.
Written and Directed by: Yorgos Avgeropoulos / Produced by: Achilleas Kouremenos/ Production Manager: Anastasia Skoubri/ Director of Photography: Vasilis Mourikis/ Research Coordinator: Georgia Anagnou/ Editing: Yiannis Biliris, Anna Prokou/ Original Music by: Yiannis Paxevanis/ A Small Planet Production for Greek Public Television ΕΡΤ © 2011-2012
Original shooting format: HD 1080p25 / Sound: Dolby Stereo / Languages: Greek, Arabic, English / Subtitles: Greek, English
TRAVELLING THROUGH POST-REVOLUTIONARY LIBYA
In the capital of Tripoli the dense traffic flow is interrupted at the revolutionists’ check points. At one of these points situated at the famous Green Square, armed young men search for possible supporters of Muammar Gaddafi and for familiar faces that may have fought on his side. For a while, they interrupt their activity and show us the balcony, from where the once emblematic leader made his speeches and got the dressed-in-green crowd raving. A few meters away, we spot two parked police cars. Once in a while, passers mock the almost frightened police officers, those who up until yesterday were every Libyan’s living nightmare. These officers still remain free because they maintained a neutral position during the war.
Some kilometers away from Tripoli lies the town of Misrata, which is considered to be the key city for the revolution’s victorious outcome. While walking on Tripoli Street, one understands why the battles fought by the city’s people have become legendary. Buildings along the road lie in complete ruin and one’s imagination runs wild when facing the pierced, by Gaddafi’s tanks, walls. In a small alley lie three destroyed tanks. They were trying, without any success, to hide from NATO’s fighter aircrafts. At the same spot were there used to be a street market. Now, people visit the area not for the bazaar, but for the museum, where all of Gaddafi’s weapons, which were used against his people, are now on display.
Many told us that we would not see worse pictures of destruction that those of Misrata. They were wrong. The city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, embodies the image of a ghost city. Few inhabitants walk on the streets and a group of young men verbally attacks us, when they realize we have a camera. The war has winners and losers.
THE SEED OF REVOLUTION
February 2012 – Prison of Abu Salim, Tripoli
Dozens of pickup trucks appear in front of the prison of Abu Salim in Tripoli. Their rear cargo areas have been modified to hold anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. On the makeshift seats sit the weapon handlers ready to arm their guns. A few minutes later, the sound of a bulldozer digging in the prison’s yard, diverts the armed men’s attention, who were up to that point speaking in a low voice. Their eyes are filled with anxiety, as a scrap of fabric in the ground may confirm the information for a collective grave. The research was fruitless.
“Either before the revolution or after, this is where they brought those who were opposing the regime. Because of something you might have said against Gaddafi, or a wrong look cast at one of his pictures. Arrest also meant death”, explains Mustafa Saleh Inkur, leader of the revolutionary group “Zawiya Lions” and head of this search.
On the 29th of June 1996, over 1,200 prisoners were slaughtered within the prison of Abu Samim in Tripoli, another symbol of Gaddafi’s cruel regime. They were executed in the yard by shooters placed on the prison’s walls. The order is said to have been given by Abdullah Senussi, the intelligence chief and right hand of Gaddafi.
Since 1995, among the prisoners were also six brothers of Mohamed el-Tayeb. They had been arrested because they refused to surrender their brother to the police, which was after him for reasons unknown. They were executed together with all the other prisoners in the summer of 1996. “Can anybody even imagine of the time when they informed us that they were dead? We were informed of their death between the 15th and 17th of February 2009! That is when they told us that my brothers were dead.”
These people’s blood was the revolutions seed. And this seed was meant to blossom 15 years later.
BENGHAZI, THE FIRST DEAD
Benghazi, which lies only 400 kilometers away from Crete, is considered to be Libya’s dissident cradle. Its inhabitants were always a thorn in the regime’s side and many times in the past they were the cause for anxiety. In 2006, 11 people were shot dead by the security forces, during an anti-government demonstration outside the city’s Italian consulate. During that demonstration, the, today, 45 year-old Adel Hasi was beaten and arrested by the authorities.
On the 15th of February 2011, he did something unthinkable, almost suicidal. He decided to walk on the streets alone, while holding a placard and demanding the regime’s overturning. He remained there for 35 minutes. “Then the police came to arrest me. It was a police car and a group of officers, but I was resisting. They had almost achieved in getting me inside the car, when a woman intervened, a respectable elder woman, who embraced me and tried to extricate me from their clasp. The officers attacked her and she fell to the ground. Some young men, who were present, revolted and things evolved in a way that cannot be described in words.”
At the same time, lawyer Fathi Terbil, who was legally representing the families of the victims of the Abu Salim prison, was arrested while he was fighting in court claiming the appropriate compensatory damages and seeking answers from the Gaddafi regime for the crime.
Soon after, the victims’ relatives remonstrated against Terbil’s sudden arrest and fellow lawyers and groups of everyday people demanded his release. Together with them now also stood those who were roused the same morning during the arrest of Adel Hasi. Thus, on the 15th of February 2011, the first conflicts with the police began.
On February 17th, a commemoration day for the 2006 uprising, a great demonstration was scheduled and announced by the social media. It was called the “Day of Rage”. The demonstrators came up against police forces and parastatals, the men in yellow hats, who terrorize the unarmed crowd by opening fire. 14 demonstrators were that day’s tragic report. The Arab Spring had just knocked on Libya’s door.
MAHDI ZIU – THE HERO OF BENGHAZI
In the following days the bloody conflicts continue. The people of Benghazi are launching attacks against the regime’s buildings and against police departments, confronting with success Gaddafi’s armed cops. The whole city has fallen in the hands of the protesters, except for one spot. The Al-Fadhil bin Omar military base or Kadiba as it is called, from where Gaddafi’s military forces fired even against funeral processions on their way to the city’s cemetery, still remained free.
Mahdi Ziu, a middle-aged, wealthy, middle class man, who lived across from the base, decided to react. “He watched as 14 year-old children were killed from heavy machine guns fired from within the military base. He witnessed dozens of young people dying before his very own eyes. And he could not tolerate it anymore.”
This shocking testimony belongs to his neighbor Mustafa Al Maghrabi, who adds: “He took his car, filled it with gas and observed a funeral at the court house’s square. After reading the Koran and receiving strength from God, he drove with great speed towards the base’s gate and by the explosion that was caused, by God; we thought that the whole base had exploded. So, he found the right solution. He bombed the gate and so, on that day, February 20th, the military camp surrendered.
The people marched into the base from all sides. The soldiers abandoned the base and retreated. The base’s weaponry was now in the rebels’ hands. Mahdi Ziu’s action has now become a point of reference for Libya, as 5 days after the initial demonstrations, the people have now the opportunity to confront Gaddafi’s forces and weapons with their own.
THE REVOLUTION SPREADS IN ALL OF LIBYA
By the end of February the big cities, like Benghazi, Misrata and Zawiya and likewise the important ports, like Brega and Ra’s Lanuf, were completely under the rebels’ control. But the regime, having recovered from the initial shock, was preparing its counter-attack. During an almost delusional proclamation, Gaddafi threatened to dig out all the “rats”, as he called the revolutionists, “neighbourhood for neighbourhood, alley for alley, home for home”.
“I know Gaddafi. From his and his son’s speech I know that rivers and oceans of blood will cover my land”, discloses Abdel Rahman Shalgham, Libya’s representative at the UN and until that point Gaddafi’s loyal collaborator. “But when I heard in his proclamation repeatedly referring to Libyans as rats, I had no choice. It was either Libya or Gaddafi!”
In the interim, the attacks of the regime’s powers for the recapture of the cities were intensifying. On March 6th, they attacked Libya’s third most populated city, Misrata. “The only feasible plan that we could implement in order to neutralize them was to let them reach the city’s center undisturbed and thus relax their vigilance… It was then that our attack from the surrounding streets and alleys began by throwing improvised explosives, by using riffles and some military weapons we had at our disposal.” As the young rebel, Omran El Ayeb, tells us 30 rebels and 150 of Gaddafi’s soldiers lost their lives. The revolutionists won. “We enriched our equipment with weapons taken from the battlefield, we learned about the opponent’s army, but we also received a baptism by fire, considering we didn’t have any combat experience up to that point.”
“WIPE BENGHAZI OFF THE MAP”
The regime may have been unable to control Misrata, but on the country’s east side the army was advancing. Zawiya, Ra’s Lanuf, Brega and Ajdabiya were recaptured by Gaddafi’s powers. The road to the revolution’s cradle, Benghazi – which Gaddafi, as it is said, wanted to annihilate in order to gaze upon the sea undisturbed – was at long last standing open.
On March 16th, a huge convoy, a real war machine, dozens of kilometers long, starts its marsh to concur the city. On the 19th of the same month, the army reaches the city’s outskirts. “Why is it coming to Benghazi? To eliminate Benghazi, to destroy Benghazi, to kill one million people”, remembers Ali El Mesbari, Benghazi’s inhabitant and member of the National Transitional Council. Sami Fkeni, a revolutionist from the ar-Rujban tribe, goes on to say: “On that day, Gaddafi was attacking Benghazi with a 60 kilometer long army, almost 15-20 thousand soldiers and volunteers. If he entered Benghazi, there would be a massacre and Europe and the whole world would be exposed to the sight of a 60 kilometer long army entering a city of one million inhabitants. He would have killed thousands and Gaddafi would still not have been satisfied.”
Benghazi’s youth was fighting strongly in an uneven war. It was a matter of time before they were defeated and only a miracle could overturn the outcome. And indeed, that “miracle” came from the skies, when the NATO’s aircrafts started bombarding Gaddafi’s military convoy. The soldiers, who up to that point were celebrating, were now abandoning the battlefield and their tanks in a panic. The UN’s decision, which had been made 2 days ago, had been set into motion giving authorization to “take all the necessary measures to protect the civilians”. In simple terms, it meant that this decision gave the green light to the international community to effectively repudiate the Gaddafi regime.
NATO ON THE REBELS’ SIDE
In the international political arena France played a major role in NATO’s intervention. It had just been caught unaware during Tunisia’s revolt, a country which was traditionally under its influence, and now tried eagerly to regain its lost prestige as a leading military force in the region and also globally. Of course, we must never forget the ever existing French companies’ oil interests in the region, which could be substantially strengthened by a victorious intervention.
Gaddafi’s statements for a nationalization of the country’s oil wealth had caused insecurity about the future, while his demands for a greater share were obstructing the present.
“In this story Great Britain also takes part. BP has vested interests in Libya. Let us not forget that BP has taken a great blow, due to the accident and the environmental pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. It faces a problem of trust concerning underwater research and the construction of oil platforms and so, a new Libyan regime under a English-French protection will be more susceptible and accept more easily BP’s offshore operations”, explains Sotiris Roussos, coordinator of the Center for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Studies at the Institute of International Affairs.
Not far behind is Italy, even though Berlusconi was initially hesitant due to his good relations with the Gaddafi regime. Seeing however, England and France outbidding each other in regards to friendship offers towards the revolutionists, Italy could not remain a bystander in this game. Moreover, the US not trusting in the aforementioned states’ military powers and believing that an eventual military failure would undermine NATO’s credibility, decided to reinforce them, without playing the leading role.
“The second component, which we should not overlook, is the Arab League’s stance. It is maybe for the first time that the Arab League keeps such a clear attitude towards an international intervention concerning one of its member states. Specifically, we have to observe Qatar’s role, which has been vital”, mentions professor Sotiris Roussos while continuing with his analysis: “Gaddafi had developed such an external policy that there wasn’t even one Arab leader, who didn’t want to be rid of Gaddafi, for one reason or another. But to my mind, this is not the only reason. The Arab League wanted to rather take the initiative than allow the western powers to take it and it also wanted to participate in the decision making, rather than be a mere observer. The third component in this equation was the change of correlations with the Arab world. In particular, the Persian Gulf countries were facing the threat of Iran, so their natural ally would have to be the US and the West. So, they had no reason, why they couldn’t follow a completely pro-Western line. Not to mention the fact that countries like Qatar or others would be able to better control how Libya conducts itself within OPEC and thus have a more coordinated line of action as far as the oil prices are concerned”.
Mr. Tarhouni, who served as Libya’s interim Prime Minister and minister for oil and finance denies everything. Giving an example of political speech in this new age, he insists that the international community helped Libya, not because it would serve its interests but because it has morals and was shocked by the civilians’ dramatic situation. A fact that had never occurred before in the case of Palestine and now in the case of Syria.
THE SIEGE OF MISRATA
Considering these facts, complete defeat for Gaddafi and his followers seemed more possible than ever. So, Gaddafi turned to his second plan of partitioning Libya. The city of Misrata, where the revolution’s flag flapped and which stood like a thorn between Tripoli and Sirte that was still under the regime’s control, would play a pivotal role in his scheme.
The ongoing battles were truly fierce. Misrata’s inhabitants were heroically opposing the regime’s forces and the longer they could not capture it, the more intensely they bombarded it from the outskirts. “Every five minutes, we heard a rocket hitting a home. People were dying, became crippled, got injured… Children, young, old, women… My God! Whenever they heard the imam’s call for prayer, they shot even more. In the morning, noon, afternoon, the shooting increased”, remembers Hajiria Al Souihli, who lost one of her two sons during the battles.
“They daily bombarded the city and the industrial area and we witnessed our children and women dying and industrial plants, fuel tanks and smelters being destroyed”, adds Omran Abdessalam Aluayeb.
For three months the inhabitants lived in terror. Gaddafi’s heavy artillery was situated in the city of Tawergha. Hauser tanks with a 50 kilometers shooting range were strewing death all around. “It had become crucial for us to attack and neutralize the regime’s forces, which were bombarding Tawergha, and also to defend the civilians, who were under fire from heavy artillery”, says Omran.
TAWERGHA, THE GHOST TOWN
Misrata’s rebels set Tawergha, a city of 40,000 inhabitants and 20 kilometers away, as their target. The city comprises mainly of black people, who support Muammar Gaddafi. On August 11th, the rebels invade Tawergha.
Salehm Amu Zarid, a representative of Tawergha’s citizens, describes vividly: “It was genocide, because Misrata’s rebels came here as avengers and not as liberators. And all this because some soldiers in Gaddafi’s army, which invaded Misrata, were from Tawergha. So, the people of Misrata were feeling vengeful and when they entered Tawergha, they killed everyone, whether they were at fault or not and they blamed the city’s citizens for everything that had occurred.”
“They left on their own accord”, refutes Yousef Ben Yousef, Misrata’s current mayor. “They left out of guilt for the crimes they had committed. All of Tawergha, soldiers and citizens alike, were involved in the attacks against Misrata. Their deeds were different from those of the tyrant’s troops. They violated our honour, stole our money, and destroyed our homes. This was an organised action by all of Tawergha’s tribes.”
There are two versions of what really happened in Tawergha. The result, however, is the same. The citizens abandoned their homes in a hurry. Today, a city of 40,000 inhabitants stands completely deserted and empty. Its citizens have moved to camps in Benghazi and Tripoli. The rebels were accused of ethnic cleansing.
THE END OF MUAMMAR AL GADDAFI
The end of August. The stranglehold has started closing in even more. It is now evident that Gaddafi is losing the war. The rebels have taken over the capital. There are rumours that Libya’s former powerful man is hiding there. For months now, the city is surrounded and besieged.
Almost two months afterwards, on October 20th, Gaddafi and his son Mutassim, leader of the army, together with other high ranking officers and with a well-equipped guard, try to leave the city with 75 vehicles. But NATO has intercepted one of Gaddafi’s satellite phone conversations.
An aircraft locates the convoy and bombards it. The group of cars is dispersed into smaller ones. The one which transports Muammar Gaddafi is heading towards the South. The aircraft launches a second attack. Omran El Ayeb witnesses the scene: “I stood on a high point and saw 15 people running right after NATO’s hit. They were moving towards the street. I notified the headquarters that 15 people were trying to flee the point of engagement.”
What Omran doesn’t realize in that instant is that the 15 people he sees running are Gaddafi and his son Mutassim, who, together with the soldiers, try to save themselves. They find shelter inside some cement wastewater pipelines that are located at the roadside.
Omran El Ayeb quickly reaches the spot. “We saw with surprise Muammar Gaddafi crawling out of the pipeline. He lifted his head, saw the rebels and said to them: “what’s the matter, guys?” He was immediately caught and he said: “Be patient. What does it mean you caught me? I am on your side. I feel you.” The rebels attacked him and tried to pull him out of the hole. He was holding a pistol and near him also laid a sniper rifle.”
The frenzied scenes that followed have been made public from the videos shot from mobile phones. Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s absolute ruler of 42 years, is sodomised and lynched by his persecutors. Eyewitnesses claim that Gaddafi was shot in the abdomen with a 9mm gun by a rebel. A fact that comes in stark contrast with the official announcement, which states he was killed by cross fire during his transportation to the hospital.
Young Omran tries to interpret the rebels’ behaviour, which caused the global revolt and Kaddafi’s violent end. “And now I ask the world. What did they expect the rebels would do when they met with the ultimate criminal and murderer, who destroyed, ruined and raped during his period of reign and throughout the war’s duration?”
FOLLOWING THE PATH TO DEMOCRACY
In Benghazi, the revolution’s cradle, there are no check points and the signs of war are starting to disappear in the whirlwind of time. The traffic on the streets and in the shops has returned to its natural rhythms. Today at Tahrir square, which means “Freedom”, where the first massive demonstrations began, something, which was forbidden in Gaddafi’s time, takes place. After the prayer, people have gathered and are strongly discussing about politics. A new word has been added to their vocabulary: democracy.
Westerners in suits confirm the city’s cosmopolitan character. They have come to Libya to examine possible investing activities. The revolution apart from freedom has also offered opportunities to those countries, which actively helped with the fall of Gaddafi’s regime.
As the evening approaches some posters intrigue our curiosity. They belong to one of the many new-founded parties, which will participate in a few months in the forthcoming elections. These will be the first elections in the country’s modern history.