Biker groups flourish in post-Qaddafi Libya

Members of the Tripoli bikers group ride their motorbikes on the streets of Tripoli, in this Nov. 4 photo. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2017

Biker groups flourish in post-Qaddafi Libya

TRIPOLI: Donning leather and helmets (sometimes), they roar along Libya’s hair-raising, potholed roads on carefully polished Harley Davidsons and Kawasakis.
Part of a growing scene, there are now hundreds of bikers in Tripoli alone who come from all walks of life. One is the imam of a local mosque, another a 60-year-old mechanic who lived nearly three decades in Texas.
Riding past — often in groups — on their gleaming machines, they stick out in Libya, where a conservative society still bears the scars of decades of authoritarian rule under former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, and the revolution and conflict that followed.
They say their hobby lifts moods in a country worn down by years of violence and political upheaval since Qaddafi’s ouster in 2011.
“People do this to have a bit of a break, to live like human beings a little,” said Bilal Khatap, a 37-year-old car dealer who rides a green Harley Davidson.
On a recent Saturday morning, about two dozen bikers congregated in central Tripoli, doing small circuits in front of curious bystanders in the city’s main square before taking a spin on the city’s coastal road.
Some were members of the Monsters — named as such for their appearance after one ride in heavy rain. Under Qaddafi, freedom of association and assembly in Libya was highly restricted, but the Monsters is one of at least four biker groups now active in the capital.
“The Monster group started in 2012” said Maruan Aghila, an embassy employee in a black Guns N’ Roses waistcoat and a skull and crossbones bandana, getting ready for the ride on his Suzuki Intruder.
“Before that we weren’t allowed to have groups. Before that there were very few bikers in Libya,” he said, adding with a smile: “So it’s a positive result of the revolution.”
Most bikers do regular professional jobs, said Subhi Azoz, a café owner who also preaches as an imam in a central Tripoli mosque and rides a mauve Suzuki Boulevard.
Some have imported powerful modern racing bikes, others have rebuilt or adapted older, classic models.
“You can order parts on Amazon, Ebay. It’s really expensive, but it’s possible,” said Aghila.
Although conflict threw Libya’s economy into crisis in recent years, sought after products can still be imported and trendy shops in parts of Tripoli stock fashionable clothes and accessories.
Biker groups have also sprung up in other major Libyan cities including Benghazi and Zawiya. They make local excursions at weekends, and sometimes venture further on cross country trips.
“Every now and again there are security problems on the road and we can’t leave, but normally it’s fine and we can go anywhere,” said Khatap.
Abdu Saghezli, a wiry 60-year-old on a white Suzuki Hayabusa who worked as a mechanic in Texas before returning to Libya in 2007, said militiamen at a checkpoint had pulled a gun on him and tried to steal his bike in early 2015.
Biking in Libya, or indeed driving, is not for the fainthearted. Road habits tend to reflect the country’s wider lawlessness.
In a 2015 report on road safety by the World Health Organization, Libya has an estimated road traffic death rate of 73 per 100,000 population, far higher than any other country listed.
“It’s very dangerous,” said Saghezli, whose brother died in a motorbike accident in the 1990s and who tries to insist that his companions wear helmets.
“If you can drive in Libya, you can drive anywhere.”

Australia move on Jerusalem slammed

Israeli troops return after blowing up a Palestinian’s house in Ramallah on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 21 min 43 sec ago

Australia move on Jerusalem slammed

  • PM Morrison says committed to recognizing a future state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital
  • The country became one of just a few to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and recognize the contested city as Israel’s capital

RAMALLAH, SYDNEY: The Palestinian leadership on Saturday described as “irresponsible” Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying it violated international law.

Canberra earlier recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved, said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. 

“We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of and after final status of determination,” Morrison said, adding that work on a new site for the embassy was under way.

“All of Jerusalem remains a final status issue for negotiations, while East Jerusalem, under international law, is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory,” he added.

“Furthermore, recognizing our commitment to a two-state solution, the Australian government is also resolved to acknowledge the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem,” he added.

The country became one of just a few to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and recognize the contested city as Israel’s capital.

Australia said it would open a defense and trade office in the west of the holy city and also committed to recognizing a future state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital.

Most foreign nations avoided moving embassies there to prevent inflaming peace talks on the city’s final status — until Trump unilaterally moved the US Embassy there earlier this year.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement that the Australian decision to open a trade office in the city violated a UN resolution.

“From the beginning, we’ve perceived the Australian government’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as one wherein petty domestic politics steer irresponsible policies that contradict world peace and security,” he said in a statement.

Morrison first floated the shift in foreign policy in October, the move angered Australia’s immediate neighbor Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim nation. 

The issue has put a halt on years-long negotiations on a bilateral trade deal.

Canberra on Friday told its citizens traveling to Indonesia to “exercise a high degree of caution,” warning of protests in the capital Jakarta and popular holiday hotspots, including Bali.

Morrison pointed to Australia’s military history in the region, and the country’s interest in a “rules-based” order in the Middle East, to support the shift in foreign policy.