From California to Cairo, none of the films that featured my country, Libya, could step out of an Orientalist vision of camels, belly dancers, an endless desert and, of course, our iconic “Brother Leader.”
In the final years of Moammar Gadhafi’s rule, tensions between the autocrat’s two most prominent sons embodied the key ideological question of how — and if — governance ought to be reformed. The ferocious rivalry contributed to the regime’s disjointed response to the 2011 uprisings — and helped bring about its end.
For one militia commander, a battlefield defeat was payback to the aspiring Libyan strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar. But it also illustrates in stark clarity how the Middle East’s proxy wars and ideological rivalries have spilled across borders, ensnaring both the innocent and not so innocent.
Political opportunists can thrive on the penchant of people to long for the old authoritarian system and forget its dark sides. Many Libyans increasingly look back at the stability of the Gadhafi years with some nostalgia, even if they fervently supported the 2011 revolution.
Libya now has a unified national government that resulted from a peaceful transition of power and handover by the two rival governments. Two top U.N. envoys to Libya say they could have hardly imagined this development a year ago when they were serving in the United Nations.
Abu Salim was once notorious as the prison where Gadhafi’s opponents were imprisoned, all but forgotten. But in a few short years, conflict has changed the memory of that place and the prison has become embroiled in the contested narratives of post-revolution Libya.