They are dancing in Tripoli

As I write this, armed rebels are dancing in Tripoli’s Green Square.  The rebellion started in the east, around Benghazi, and was followed by months of fighting, with the rebels often showing more courage than knowledge of the basics of military strategy.  But now, suddenly, they have captured several of Gaddafi’s sons — including Seif al-Islam, who once presented himself as the principal modernizing force within Libya (much as Gamal Mubarak did in Egypt) but then became his father’s chief mouthpiece — and the rebels have taken Green Square in the capital.

In 1963, my parents registered their marriage in the Municipio building that then stood at the edge of that square; more than forty years later, I stood in that square myself surrounded by Gaddafi’s leering, Mick Jaggeresque visage staring out from large billboards and mosaics.  This is the very center of the city, the transition point between the old medina and the colonial Italian quarter.  If the rebels are there, it is over.  Al Jazeera is reporting that Gaddafi still refuses to step down — months ago he vowed to ‘fight to the last drop of blood’ though the joke has always been that he was happy to fight to the last drop of someone else’s blood — but his end is near.  Il-hamdulillah.

Click here to read the article I wrote and photographed for Travel + Leisure to gain a sense of what Libya felt like to experience on the ground.  Or here for an excerpt from my Libya journals about the surreal experience of running through the Tripoli medina with a human rights activist.  Or here for a look inside my copy of Gaddafi’s infamous Green Book.

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Postscript: Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, issued a statement today (8/21) that began:

The end of the Qadaffi regime in Libya is a victory for the Libyan people and for the broader cause of freedom in the Middle East and throughout the world.  This achievement was made possible first and foremost by the struggle and sacrifice of countless Libyans, whose courage and perseverance we applaud.  We also commend our British, French, and other allies, as well as our Arab partners, especially Qatar and the UAE, for their leadership in this conflict.  Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.

Now, what to make of this?  Ignore their typo in spelling Gaddafi’s name two different ways in one paragraph; after all, even when I went to the US State Department to have my travel to Libya approved (it was then under embargo) they stamped it “Permitted for travel to Lybya.”  Ignore, too, the tip of the hat to Qatar and UAE, which are far from the theater of war but generally helpful to American interests in the region.  And ignore the almost unprecedented credit being given to France, a country that Republicans generally use as a sort of quasi-communist, culturally elitist cudgel with which to beat cosmopolitan Americans in a class war.  No, what to make of the criticism that the US did not “employ the full weight of our airpower”?  If this is a swipe at Obama, McCain and Graham have disgraced themselves: I criticized Obama for his timid approach throughout the Egypt revolution but in Libya he was far ahead of the Republican leadership, which has fought a cynical rearguard effort to deny that Obama had authority to engage NATO in its (apparently decisive) role in aiding the Libyan rebels.  But if this is a fragging incident in which McCain and Graham are tossing a grenade at their own side for their cowardice in undermining the President on this issue, I applaud the effort but, hey, how about naming names so that your target is explicit?  Isn’t that the point of issuing a statement?

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The photographs below were taken on 22 August and come from Alan Taylor’s always excellent photojournalism site at the Atlantic.



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