The past year in Libya meant big changes on every level of society. With the former dictator gone, efforts have been focused on reforming, rebuilding and creating anew. There are many challenges for a country only emerging from a long century of colonialism and neglect, years under a king, oppressive Gaddafi rule, and eight months of destructive war. But, amid this, there are lots of promising signs and great individual efforts.
“You know the expression ‘the walls have ears’? That’s how it used to be in Libya before. We could’ve never started the project under the previous regime.”
One of them is the newfound political discourse and open discussions that are taking place – non-existent before the revolution. Libya today has hundreds of new media, from local newspapers and new TV-channels to numerous citizen initiatives. One of them is Libya Times a youth-run magazine that carries stories from different parts of the country, as well as from abroad. 20-years-old architect student Zainab Tarbah from Tripoli is editor in chief.
“Everything began last year by a group of young people in Benghazi. Then, we started in Tripoli also. Now, we’re 14 people here, and 16 or 17 in Benghazi. All of us are students and we run the magazine totally on a voluntary basis,” says Zainab when we meet at Libya Times’ offices in a Tripoli neighbourhood. The space is new, and they share it with a language school where people come to learn English. Quite a good representation of new Libya, where very much is about building anew and reaching out across borders.
“You know the expression ‘the walls have ears’? That’s how it used to be in Libya before. We could’ve never started the project under the previous regime. I never thought I could write, for example. Young people were never encouraged to do things. They intended us to have boring lives, to keep us apathetic.”
For Zainab and the other team members, last year provided the occasion to create something completely on their own. The magazine is unique in one aspect – it’s published entirely in English. Zeinab describes why.
“All of us are students and we run the magazine totally on a voluntary basis.”
“We wanted to put Libya more in touch with the rest of the world. To send a message from here to abroad. Also, we want Libyans to read more in English. The English language has been more or less dead here. There was even a time when Gaddafi banned all teaching in English. And the teaching in schools – you would laugh if you saw the books we use. Libyans who speak English do so entirely through their own efforts: they’ve learned it through music and films. For the old regime, this was a way of keeping us isolated from the world.”
During last year’s events, new TV broadcasts and free print media started being distributed across the country. Now, many have stayed and established themselves in the new political environment.
“Sure, the press can be considered ‘free’ now, which was not the case before. The papers only wrote about Gaddafi, his sons, and what they were doing. But, in many cases, the new media behaves just like the old. They rant and call people names – only now it’s the former regime that’s the target. So we need to build a good media. One that represents us,” says Zainab.
“In many cases, the new media behaves just like the old. They rant and call people names – only now it’s the former regime that’s the target.”
Even though Libya Times is still a young and non-professional project, it fills an important purpose that mainstream society – politics, media – has yet to succeed doing. That is bringing youth into the social and political processes.
“Yes absolutely, the young generation needs to be better represented in the new Libya. We are the ones who had to deal with this guy [Gaddafi] from birth. We never had any choice. The revolution was made by the youth. But, until now, we haven’t seen young people in any positions. Especially not young women. So there’s a big task that has to be done in supporting the youth to be good future leaders,” says Zeinab.
She points out the window, towards one of Tripoli’s busy streets. The office is in a central area, with streets where offices, cafés and small shops sit next to each other. Yet, even though the neighbourhood is not poorly run, the need for better infrastructure and maintenance is evident.
“As a young Libyan, the only motivation you need is right outside your window. Look at all the cars, all the trash in the streets, the destruction from the war. That alone makes you want to join and make change.”
“The young generation needs to be better represented in the new Libya. We are the ones who had to deal with this guy [Gaddafi] from birth.”
Then, Zainab says something that can be heard in conversations with young people all across the country.
“Before, I wanted to leave Libya. Now, I don’t think that way anymore, I want to stay here and take part in building my country.”
She continues, commenting on the current situation in her country. Surely hard work is needed to keep moving, but there are also seeds of positive change.
“We have lots of things to deal with. The rebels who act like militia men must be stopped – otherwise they will ruin all the hard work that we did last year. Personally, I’ve changed during the revolution. Now, if I see something wrong, I talk about it. We sacrificed a lot, and we don’t want to lose that. I also see that people here are different persons. My dad is, he’s changed perspective this past year. If he has, then it means that means the country is changing,” she says with a smile.