Dozens of Libya’s poor are celebrating the country’s first free
Ramadan since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in the shattered
remains of the late dictator’s infamous Bab Al-Aziziya military
“We can’t believe that we have a
home and are celebrating Ramadan in a place that was once
completely out of bounds,” says one of them, Surur Rabti.
military complex was Kadhafi’s main base of operations until
NATO-backed rebel forces stormed it on August 23, 2011 in a
decisive battle for the capital. It is now a giant field of gutted
structures, trash and debris.
Rabti and her family moved into the
compound in October, the same month that rebels captured and
killed the strongman who ruled the oil-rich north African nation
with an iron grip for more than four decades.
The family of eight, including three who earn paltry wages, is
among the better off in a stretch of Bab Al-Aziziya where decent
homes have been carved out of rubble but where fresh coats of
paint do little to conceal thick layers of soot.
Some of the tiles in Rabti’s spacious yet basic house -- once the
residence of a high-ranking officer living just a stone’s throw
from Gaddafi’s own quarters -- are still cracked from the impact
of explosives. Yellow plastic sheets make up for missing windows.
A recycled wooden door hangs on shaky hinges. Other doorways have
been left gaping open or sealed off with cream curtains. There is
no breeze or air conditioner to take the edge of the summer heat.
The family says it is happy although its joint income is barely
enough to cover the cost of food in general, let alone allow for
the lavish meals that traditionally accompany the sundown breaking
of the Ramadan fast.
“We are happy because the blood of the
martyrs didn’t go to waste” says Rabti, who gave up her medical
studies two years ago to help feed her family and now works as an
Her mother, Zobra, says “This is the first time we celebrate
Ramadan feeling relaxed and without fear, even if we are living it
That simplicity includes a garden patch of mint, tomatoes
and bell peppers that she will use to flavour her feasts.
families are struggling in this maze of roughly 40 housing units.
Without glass in their windows to stave off the chill of the past
winter, they are now growing restless in harsh summer
temperatures, with thermometers pushing up to 40 degrees Celsius
“We’ve been here almost a year -- since
September 13,” Umm Seif told AFP.
“We endured a winter without windows
and now we don’t have power for the air conditioner. We’d like a
solution, just a small gesture from the state to know we have
hope,” adds the housewife.
Umm Seif says the 400 Libyan dinars ($320/260 euros) earned each
month by her fireman husband is barely enough to feed their
children and that before setting up camp in Bab Al-Aziziya they
had no choice but to live with her father-in-law.
water are both in short supply, she complains, pointing to a thin
cable that connects her home to the main power grids outside Bab
Al-Aziziya and to plastic containers of water drawn from a pump
outside the complex.
“My hope is for stability, whether the
government moves me or keeps me here,” she says, adding that she
is getting through Ramadan thanks to the “kindness of neighbours.” Abdel Salam Segayer, a father of two, gets up early in the hope of
getting odd jobs painting or fixing homes in wealthier areas.
takes great pride in what residents of Bab Al-Aziziya have
achieved since last Ramadan.
“When we arrived it was all destroyed,” he remembers.
“We’ve cleared the corpses from the rubble and buried them. We’ve
set up our own power lines and pipes. We have painted our houses.
In the beginning, I couldn’t sleep because I was so overjoyed to
have my first home.”
Ramadan, he says, has been a simple but
joyful affair with men in the neighbourhood taking turns to host
each other for tea and games of cards at night after breaking the
fast with the family and prayers at the mosque.
“This Ramadan is
completely different because we are unshackled,” he says.
another area of Bab Al-Aziziya, residents living in destitute
homes in a row of badly damaged barracks within the bombed out
complex, are in no mood for visitors. They only want concrete
“We don’t want media, we want
solutions,” one man snaps.