The Arab Spring swept across North Africa and the Middle East early 2011. On 17 February that year, rebels in Libya rose up against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The West hoped the Libyan uprising would, like Egypt’s, be a quick revolution. But the Libyan uprising has become a long, bitter, grinding conflict. Many have lost their lives.
NATO initially did not want to aid the rebels and declined to become involved, fearful that armed intervention would draw parallels with Iraq. Like Iraq, Libya is rich in oil, and, under Gaddafi, western access to Libya’s fields was restricted. The rebels formed a new government – the Transitional National Council (TNC) – and promised easier access to Libya’s oil once their revolution succeeded.
NATO eventually relented, imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, framing the intervention as a humanitarian mission. NATO was protecting civilians from Gaddafi’s terror.
In Benghazi, the rebels’ headquarters, the TNC used all their PR skills, trying to get their message across to the Western press. For its part, NATO focuses mainly on the brutality of Gaddafi’s regime and does not question the rebels’ motives too closely. Perhaps it is true that the first thing that gets lost in war is the truth. With a lot of gunfire in the city and a bomb explosion every now and then Benghazi surely isn’t a peaceful city.
Salloum is a small town close to the Libyan and Egypt border. A UNHCR camp just outside of town provides shelter for black Africans, mostly Darfuris, from western Sudan. They fled Benghazi because many rebel supporters thought the Darfuris were mercenaries, brought in from Chad and the Central African Republic by Gaddafi to bolster his army. Many innocent Africans have been killed in revenge attacks by the Libyan rebels.
NATO supports Libya’s rebels without questioning their possible misdeeds. While photographing the refugees it became clear that the authorities wanted to stop us from telling this particular story. We were arrested by the secret police, bundled into a pick-up truck and driven across the border into Egypt. Nobody knows what will happen to the refugees in Salloum.
Gaddafi is going to fall
When visiting Libya for the second time in October 2011, the revolution against Colonel Gaddafi is still ongoing. Most parts of the country are taken by the new temporary government (TNC). It wouldn’t take long before Gaddafi’s regime is going to fall.