Last month the Libyan people took to the streets in Tripoli, Benghazi and the rest of the country in celebration of the one year anniversary of the collapse of Gaddafi’s authoritarian regime.
Last month the Libyan people took to the streets in Tripoli, Benghazi and the rest of the country in celebration of the one year anniversary of the collapse of Gaddafi’s authoritarian regime. Fireworks lit the skies, while Tripoli’s official lantern release ceremony commemorated the bravery of fallen freedom fighters. ‘The February 17th anniversary was the first ever occasion that Libyans could actually celebrate in 42 years. It was the first time that Libyans could go out and celebrate something that they all believe in,’ says Ayat Mneina, co-founder of the Libyan Youth Movement.
The Libyan Youth movement is a social media group made up of Libyans who were living abroad during the historic uprising against Gaddafi in 2011. As young citizens separated from their country at this time, Ayat Mneina (Canada) and Omar Amer (Manchester) wanted to ensure they played a role in the revolution. ‘We anticipated that something might happen. We saw the revolutions going on and figured, let’s be prepared,’ said 24-year old Ayat. And so, on the 2nd of February, the two of them came together to create the Libyan Youth Movement – otherwise known as @ShababLibya to Twitter users.
What started out as a Facebook page to share information about the situation soon turned into the most accurate and reliable news source on the Libyan uprising. With Libya shut off from the rest of the world, the LYM became the source that people – and news agencies – turned to for the truth on what was happening on Libyan soil.
As the Libyans celebrate their one year of freedom, Ayat Mneina took the time out to speak with me about the journey of the Libyan Youth Movement: from a struggling start to their glorifying achievement, and all the difficulties, dangers, highs and lows in between. Now run by 20 admin members, with 3 of them based in Libya, the LYM continue to link Libyan citizens and the international community.
So, what were your aims as an organization?
Basically, because we knew that in Libya it would not be possible, because the regime had the power – whatever inclination that they had – they would basically turn off Internet, turn off communications, it wasn’t possible on the grounds. So that was what pushed us to take action. Then our goal was to shed light on what was happening and make sure that the world was able to access actual facts as to what was going on.
During the revolution, people turned to you guys for accurate posts and updates from Libya, from inside the country. I think we’re all wondering – where did you get your information from?
We didn’t know that it would even take place until it actually did. But initially we kind of started asking our friends, ‘what do you guys think? Is something going to happen? Is something not going to happen?’ And I remember I asked my cousins around Libya, ‘what do you guys think?’ and they weren’t really willing to say anything for a long time. But the night before, I remember it was the 16th – it was after the 15th protest took place because of the human rights lawyer that was arrested that kind of caused some movement in Benghazi. Then on the 16th my cousins came online and were like, ‘we’re taking to the streets tomorrow. It’s happening, it’s confirmed, we’re going.’ So I had all my relatives’ numbers, and Omar had all of his, and then as soon as things started happening we reached out to people and said, ‘if anybody has family or friends that are willing to talk’ – because initially it was like, you can have numbers, but nobody’s going to answer your questions. So we said, ‘whoever is willing to talk, you need to reach out to us.’
We were kind of a scramble basically and we quickly were able to get people’s contacts somehow. We started forming a network and basically everywhere that something was happening we had at least one contact who we would call live and ask ‘what’s happening?’ Initially though we needed more than one at least in different cities, just to confirm and have something to compare it to. And if we heard the same thing a few times we would confirm it. So basically yeah, it was our relatives, our friends and family, and then after that it was just strangers. We would just call people and say, ‘we heard that there’s conflict where you are – tell us what’s happening. We will tell the media. Can we pass this number onto the media?’ Basically that’s how it worked.
What are the major issues facing Libya right now?
Right now I think it’s just a matter of getting this government in a position where we can have elections and we can have a constitution finally. And then we can have the re-elections. And after the government constructs a constitution, you have to have laws and you have to deal with all the crimes that took place in the revolution. Rebuilding infrastructure, getting kids back in school full time, and then a whole re-education of the population basically because they’ve been fed Gaddafi propaganda for 40 years. So that’s almost 3 generations of people that have existed under that regime and a complete restructuring of the mindset because they were kind of broken over those 4 decades and really told ‘you can’t do anything without our say’ and ‘you shouldn’t aspire to anything’, you know what I mean? So that sense of that mindset is really detrimental.
Lastly, do you have a message or any advice for the youth in the countries that are having uprisings at present?
The youth have a lot of tools in our hands that we can make use of. For me, social media and using that to do something, that was a complete awakening experience, I had no idea. Networking: it is who you know. Reach out to others in different revolutions. I know the Libyans have reached out to the Syrians and have been networking and have been tweeting with them. Libyan Freedom Fighters went and fought in Syria, they’ve actually physically gone. I think there’s a collective sense of brotherhood between the Arab Spring. They have to persist, and have to insist that their voices are being heard and hopefully the world will have a conscience and do something. Right now the situation in Syria is quite shameful, but we haven’t yet taken action. I mean, their situation is different from Libya, we understand that, there’s huge political factors that are taking into account right now, so just persist. I think a lot of the regimes – they reach a point of no return. For sure Syria, Assad is not going to stay. For sure Yemen. They have reached a point of no return; it’s just a matter of when.
You can read the full article on Priyanka’s blog