The message from Benghazi

The birth of a democracy is beautiful, but it isn’t always pretty. Muammar Gaddafi starved Benghazi of money, so it was a drab city even before the current uprising. Now the clutter of revolution makes it look even more dishevelled. But just as the drabness fed defiance, so the clutter of old flags, home-made banners and crumpled leaflets speak of great hope.

I had come to Benghazi to open the first European Union office in free Libya. I arrived in the newly-named Freedom Square, to see the EU flag flying near the courthouse and to meet some of the people who have been bringing democracy to life.

As in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, I found not just enthusiasm for reform but great warmth towards their European neighbours across the Mediterranean. Passers-by greeted me more as a friend than a first-time visitor. “Welcome, Cathy, Welcome Europe”, one said; “we know you care about us, thank you for visiting us, come again.” At the offices of the National Transitional Council, Fatma greeted me in traditional Libyan clothes with beaten silver jewellery on her ankles, wrists and fingers. At six years old she is tall for her age and quite shy to find herself the centre of attraction. She had come to give me flowers. She told me she liked to paint, and had two younger brothers, but that sadly her father had died so now her uncle looked after the family.

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Categories: Libya, Malta

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