Young Libyans chose danger at sea over peril at home

The perils of trying to cross the sea were still preferable to what they had left behind in their war-torn home. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 August 2019

Young Libyans chose danger at sea over peril at home

For three young Libyans plucked from a deflating dingy in the Mediterranean, the perils of trying to cross the sea were still preferable to what they had left behind in their war-torn home.
Salah, Khalil and Ibrahim, aged between 19 and 22, sat in a corner of the Ocean Viking vessel operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders as it waited for permission to dock at a port.
They sat apart from other migrants from Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, Senegal and the Ivory Coast who have fled torture and abuse in Libya where most of them had gone to seek work.
“I had no idea how dangerous the sea could be,” says Khalil, 20.
“But Libya is collapsing — you cannot live there,” he adds, pulling an imaginary trigger.

Before he fled Libya, Khalil was a taxi driver.
While driving the route from Sabha, his hometown in the center to the eastern city of Benghazi, he was stopped by militia loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a strongman who holds sway in the region.
He said he was thrown into prison where he languished for three months alongside hundreds of others and was beaten daily, pointing to a scar in the corner of his mouth.
He later made a break for freedom with about 15 fellow prisoners, running the gauntlet of their jailers who fired on them as they fled.
“People were shot around me but I didn’t stop,’ he said. “I was hit too.”
Luca, the ship’s doctor who removed the bullets embedded in Khalil’s body, says such wounds are nothing new among those fleeing from conflict areas.
With his taxi taken from him, Khalil returned to his family. “I just wanted to live a normal life,” he said.
But a month later fighting broke out in his town and his mother told him to flee.
“She had no idea of how dangerous the crossing could be,” Khalil says. “Neither did I. I was happy to try the sea.”
But by the time he was rescued by Doctors without Borders on August 12, the blue rubber dingy he was sharing with 104 others was on the verge of sinking.

Nineteen-year-old Salah joined the forces of the Government of National Accord of Fayez-al-Sarraj. But he soon realized that he was not cut out for war.
“If I had stayed, I would have been killed — either by Sarraj’s men for fleeing, or by Haftar’s men for fighting for Sarraj,” he said.
He got a number from a Sudanese, and left the same day — with just time for one last selfie with his family.
Ibrahim’s reason for fleeing was the color of his skin.
“My father was black — he is dead. My uncle died in the fighting. My school was bombed. My mother said to me ‘Libya is not a country for you’.”
“My Sudanese friends were like a family to me. One from Darfur was killed right in front of me as we were on our way to play football,” he said.
“I didn’t want to fight. I was terrified on that blue boat, but Libya is more dangerous than our sunken vessel.”


Outsider leads after divisive Tunisia presidential poll

Updated 16 September 2019

Outsider leads after divisive Tunisia presidential poll

  • Law professor Saied and magnate Karoui, after exit polls showed they had qualified for the second round of voting

TUNIS: Political outsider Kais Saied was leading Tunisia’s election with just over a quarter of votes counted, the election commission said Monday, in the country’s second free presidential vote since the Arab Spring.
Saied was on 19 percent, leading imprisoned media magnate Nabil Karoui, who was on 14.9 percent, and ahead of the candidate from the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party Abdelfattah Mourou (13.1 percent).
The announcement came after both Saied and Karoui’s camp claimed to have won through to the second round, in the highly divisive polls.
Local papers splashed photos across their front pages of law professor Saied and magnate Karoui, after exit polls showed they had qualified for the second round of voting.
“An unexpected verdict,” ran a headline in La Presse.
Le Temps titled its editorial “The Slap,” while the Arabic language Echourouk newspaper highlighted a “political earthquake” and a “tsunami” in the Maghreb.
The initial signs point toward a major upset for Tunisia’s political establishment, in place since the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
It could also usher in a period of immense uncertainty for the fledgling north African democracy, the sole success story of the Arab Spring revolts.
Tunisia’s electoral commission (ISIE) reported low turnout at 45 percent, down from 64 percent in the country’s first democratic polls in 2014.
Late Sunday, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called on the liberal and centrist camps to band together for legislative elections set for October 6, voicing concern that low participation was “bad for the democratic transition.”
Chahed, a presidential hopeful whose popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living, could well turn out to be the election’s biggest loser.
The election comes against a backdrop of serious social and economic crises.
Karoui, a 56-year-old media magnate, has been behind bars since August 23 on charges of money laundering and Tunisia’s judiciary has refused his release three times.
A controversial businessman, labelled a “populist” by critics, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest.
His apparent rival is political neophyte Saied.
The highly conservative constitutionalist, known to Tunisians for his televised political commentary since the 2011 revolt, has shunned political parties and mass rallies. Instead, he has opted to go door-to-door to explain his policies.
He advocates a rigorous overhaul of the constitution and voting system, to decentralize power “so that the will of the people penetrates into central government and puts an end to corruption.”
Often surrounded by young acolytes, he also set forth his social conservatism, defending the death penalty, criminalization of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.
“It’s going to be new,” said a baker named Said on Monday, issuing a wry smile.
“We’ll have to wait and see. Anyway, what matters in Tunisia is the parliament.”
The first round was marked by high rates of apathy among young voters, pushing ISIE head to put out an emergency call to them Sunday an hour before polls closed.
On Sunday morning, senior citizen Adil Toumi had asked as he voted in the capital “where are the young people?“
Political scientist Hamza Meddeb told AFP “this is a sign of very deep discontent with the political class that has not met economic and social expectations,“
“Disgust with the political elite seems to have resulted in a vote for outsiders.”
Distrust of the political establishment runs high in Tunisia, where unemployment is at 15 percent and the cost of living has risen by close to a third since 2016.
Extremist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector.
Around 70,000 security forces were mobilized for the polls.
The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.