The eye of the storm

BENGHAZI, Libya — A month into its life as the de facto capital of free Libya, the port city of Bengazhi has achieved a strange kind of normal. The cribs, garbage cans, and bed frames that were assembled into fortifications to block the advance of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces are disappearing off the city streets, ...

PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

BENGHAZI, Libya — A month into its life as the de facto capital of free Libya, the port city of Bengazhi has achieved a strange kind of normal. The cribs, garbage cans, and bed frames that were assembled into fortifications to block the advance of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces are disappearing off the city streets, as are the crates of Pepsi bottle Molotov cocktails. The teenagers who started manning these eccentric barricades last Sunday night are back in Freedom Square -- a pre-revolutionary name -- for their nightly ritual of prayers, hanging out along the boardwalk above the sea, and smoking. The scene among the makeshift tents, set up in the heady days of the revolution by everyone from soccer clubs to former political prisoners, is much as it was few weeks ago, except banners once imploring the international community to step in have been replaced by banners thanking the Americans, British, and above all the French. The crowds of mostly young men now exchange cell phone movies of Qaddafi forces' failed attack on the city.

It had been a close call. When I went out for dinner at a local restaurant a week ago, I found the patrons there in a panic: Benghazi's pro-rebel radio station had called all the young men to come and fight on the highway running west past the city's Garyounis University. Heavy shelling started early Saturday morning and continued all day as tanks supported by rocket launchers pushed into the city. It was Qaddafi's attempt to grab Benghazi, or as much of it as he could, before the international forces' airstrikes began. The logic was clear: crush the city and, in so doing, crush the revolution that started there. By the time the coalition attacks started on Sunday, large parts of the city had evacuated to the east.

Read more.

BENGHAZI, Libya — A month into its life as the de facto capital of free Libya, the port city of Bengazhi has achieved a strange kind of normal. The cribs, garbage cans, and bed frames that were assembled into fortifications to block the advance of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces are disappearing off the city streets, as are the crates of Pepsi bottle Molotov cocktails. The teenagers who started manning these eccentric barricades last Sunday night are back in Freedom Square — a pre-revolutionary name — for their nightly ritual of prayers, hanging out along the boardwalk above the sea, and smoking. The scene among the makeshift tents, set up in the heady days of the revolution by everyone from soccer clubs to former political prisoners, is much as it was few weeks ago, except banners once imploring the international community to step in have been replaced by banners thanking the Americans, British, and above all the French. The crowds of mostly young men now exchange cell phone movies of Qaddafi forces’ failed attack on the city.

It had been a close call. When I went out for dinner at a local restaurant a week ago, I found the patrons there in a panic: Benghazi’s pro-rebel radio station had called all the young men to come and fight on the highway running west past the city’s Garyounis University. Heavy shelling started early Saturday morning and continued all day as tanks supported by rocket launchers pushed into the city. It was Qaddafi’s attempt to grab Benghazi, or as much of it as he could, before the international forces’ airstrikes began. The logic was clear: crush the city and, in so doing, crush the revolution that started there. By the time the coalition attacks started on Sunday, large parts of the city had evacuated to the east.

Read more.

 

Patrick Graham is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written for numerous publications including Harper's, Outside, the London Observer, and the Toronto Globe and Mail. He received an Overseas Press Club of America Award for his work in Iraq in 2004.

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