Gaddafi's death: voices from Libya

"I've been waiting for this my whole life." Young Libyans who have never known anything but Gaddafi'

It was hard to hear anyone properly over the car horns, ululations, chants and cheers in Martyrs Square, but my friends -- students and young professionals who have known little other than Muammar Gaddafi's repressive, totalitarian, paranoid rule -- tried gallantly to describe what it feels like to wave the former "Brother Leader" goodbye for the final time.

"It's amazing," Yusef shouts over the crowds. His friend Zuhair wrestles the from him phone to add "It's an incredible feeling. I've been waiting for this my whole life." They pass the phone to Noor, but she is too excited to do more than scream.

With the entire of central Tripoli blocked, they abandon Zuhair's car several streets away and walk into the central square on foot. "Everyone is coming out of the houses and joining us now. There are thousands of people coming out onto the street, and office workers are leaving their buildings still wearing their suits to come to the square," Yusef explains.

Yusef was already planning to head to Martyrs Square when he heard that Sirte had fallen, but when he saw the news of Gaddafi's death on TV "we started jumping in front of the TV, and people just ran outside, to see their neighbours and get candy and chocolates. People were spraying perfume on each other, and giving each other chocolates. We were so happy."

He left his mother and sisters at home. "Some people are afraid to go out, because of the random shooting," he says, but the problem hasn't been as bad as he feared. "There have been three or four cases of people shooting up into the air, but the crowd just started shouting at them and threw water bottles and things at them until they stopped."

His conversation was halting as he called back greetings and congratulations to strangers in the street. Before the revolution, many Libyans had all but retreated into the relative security of their family homes, fearful of Gaddafi's security forces and neighbourhood gossip. Despite six months of civil war, Libyans are learning to trust one another again, and ordinary citizens are reclaiming public spaces -- both physically, and politically.

Al-Jazeera has reported that mobile phone pictures of Gaddafi's injured body are already being blown up to make posters to hang in public squares. The reaction is simultaneously distasteful and understandable, but the Libyan people have more to celebrate today than the sorry death of a terrible tyrant. Despite the frenzied excitement of this morning, Yusef was already focusing on the long-term implications of this final military victory.

"Finally we can focus on rebuilding our country, on creating a transitional government, on elections. Until now we have just been focusing on liberating Sirte and finding Gaddafi. Now we can move on." The National Transitional Council's political challenges are far greater than the military one they've just overcome. But at least now they are ready to move on.

Sophie McBain is a staff writer for Spears. She previously lived in Tripoli.


Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

All photos: India Bourke
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“They cut, we bleed”: activists Sisters Uncut protest closures of women's services

 “Our blood should not pay for our rape.”

Over 500 domestic violence survivors and support workers processed through central London this weekend. The protest, staged by the feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut, mourned the women’s services that are losing out as a result of the government's austerity drive.

Since November 2014 the group has occupied streets, burned copies of the Daily Mail, and hijacked the Suffragette film premiere. But on Saturday the mood was somber. In Soho Square the group staged a symbolic funeral service. Attendees stood in a protective circle, fists raised, while members took turns to read out the names of the scores of women who’ve been killed by men in the past year:  “Anne Dunkley, 67; Nadia Khan, 24; Lisa Anthony, 47…”. The youngest was just 14 years old.

The service culminated in a promise “to never forget” the dead, and also to protect the living: “We must love and support one another; we have nothing to lose but our chains".

As the protestors passed St Martins in the Fields Church, dressed in black veils and funeral attire, the crowd of passers-by broke into spontaneous applause. “It gave me goosebumps”, Caroline, an activist and former victim of abuse told me. “You expect people on the march to be supportive but not the people on the street. I’ve been on other marches and people normally complain about you being selfish and blocking up the streets but this response makes you feel like people do  care.”

The show of public support is especially welcome in the aftermath of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Cuts to local authority budgets have already led to the closure of over 30 domestic violence services since 2010, including Eaves, a charity that provided services for single, low-income and vulnerable women.

Further erosions to local council budgets will only put more services and lives at risk, activists say. Also of concern is Osborne’s decision to devolve responsibility for raising a social care tax (of up to 2 per cent on council tax) to local authorities. This tips hostility to tax increases away from central government to local authorities, and could place greater pressure on women’s services to compete for funding.

The Chancellor offered a supposed silver lining to the cuts with the promise that VAT money raised from the EU’s compulsory tax on sanitary products will be ringfenced for women’s charities, such as the Eve Appeal and Women’s Aid.

The implication, however, that only women are to pay for helping the victims of domestic violence was met with derision from Sisters Uncut. As the marchers approached their final destination in Trafalgar Square, red dye turned the square’s famous fountains the colour of blood. “This blood won’t wash the blood from Osborne’s hands,” read one tampon-draped banner; “Our blood should not pay for our rape”, read another.

For those on the march, the cuts are an affront on many levels. All those I spoke to worked in some form of public service; everything from housing to foster care. But some have had to move out of the women’s services sector for the lack of funding.

Louisa used to work for a domestic violence service in London until it was forced to close last month. “I’m here because I’ve witnessed first hand what the cuts are doing to women and how much the organisations are having to squeeze what they can provide.”

All public services have legitimate claims to support - from the 14-strong police team that escorted the marchers, to the sweepers who were left to dredge the protesters’ roses out of the fountains and brush away the tampons that had fallen from their banners.

The danger, however, according to Caroline, is that the needs of domestic violence victims are all too easy to sideline: “This is by its nature something that goes on behind closed doors,” she says. As funding tightens, these voices musn’t be squeezed out.

Sisters Uncut is an intersectional group open to all who identify as women. The national domestic violence helpline offers help and support on 0808 2000 247. Members of the LGBT communities can also access tailored support from Broken Rainbow on 0800 9995428.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.