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Libya: Bloggers Between Dictatorship and War

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.

It's been six months since the Libyan uprising began. How was the Libyan blogging scene before the February 17 revolution, and how has it evolved over the last few months?

Sometime in 2009 and way before the Feb 17 Revolution as it is now known, a large number of the Libyan blogging community members had shifted their conversations to Facebook and later on to Twitter, which they felt was more interactive and ‘immediate'. In this regard, the different English and Arabic blogs were a bit like an empty house with occasional updates on what seemed to be very important events in their life or when ‘guilt’ would prevail. However, this did not mean that the scene was empty but simply that it was somehow less spicy – apart from the usual suspects or hardcore earliest bloggers such as Khadijateri and Imtidad, as well as those who actually loved to write long prose, which was more than 140 characters.

Khalid Al Jorni, a Libyan blogger who had since closed shop, had deployed a great effort in aggregating a large number of the Libyan blogs and Libyan related blogs in one place called All Libyan Blogs. He even classified them in English and Arabic and whoever was administering the site kept doing so until February 2011 at least. Khalid's writing from inside Libya bordered on what could be considered acceptable criticism of the government and its economic policy and the social situation in Libya. The only reason I could think for him to stop blogging and delete his blog because he was very popular with the younger generation. He once wrote, and I am here paraphrasing, that talking about Libya's rich past and ancient ruins was nice, but that the youth wanted to see a modern Libya with functioning metropolises. I'm sure that if he could he would be online now.

In previous posts we had shared with you on Global Voices the various topics discussed on the Libyan blogosphere. This community is divided into three main groups: (1) Libyans residing in Libya (these also include foreigners married to Libyans), (2) Libyans temporarily residing abroad for various reasons and (3) Diaspora Libyans. The majority started blogging in English, some moved to Arabic , while others only blogged in Arabic.

Touring the Libyan blogs now, we notice that the percentage of Arabic language blogs seems to be higher, but they are less well known on the non-Libyan non Arabic speaking sphere because they have less exposure. Their voices too need to be heard as they bring up a complementary aspect of Libya. While they both have a personal theme and do speak about society, culture and politics, their audience and background would be different except for the dual language individuals who are straddling both sides.

The Arabic language bloggers seem to focus more on stories, poetry, Libyan society themes, essays etc… while theEnglish speaking bloggers have a slightly higher individualistic trait treating the blog as a diary to reveal their personalities, lives and aspirations.

It is in joining both conversations that we are able to get a fuller picture about Libya, which has been and remains largely a mystery to the outside world.

The third category of bloggers, i.e. those living in the Diaspora, were the only Libyans to openly criticize and ridicule the Libyan government and even their compatriots back home. They were safe and established abroad.

Category 2, Libyans temporary living overseas, spoke a lot about what they did bringing up family stories and very general things about Libya unless they had decided to join the opposition and so they stopped being shy of saying their opinion loudly.

Category 1, people blogging directly from the homeland, were the ones taking the most physical risk and so were being careful in wording their sentences in a way that would not be threatening to the regime but that would still convey the image. Their blogs ranged from the diary type of “I did this and that today and passed my exams, met friends, went shopping, got engaged” to other more serious issues like environment, pollution, rubbish collection, economic projects and corruption. I think any criticism that they managed to dish out was an exercise in subtlety and understatement. Here is an example by Khadijateri:

This is just getting ridiculous. It's like when you step in chewing gum, or even worse, dog poo, and it gets stuck on the bottom of your shib-shib [ar] (slipper) and you can't get it off. No matter how hard you try; you rub your shib-shib on the ground, on the grass, on the edge of the street curb, or you get a stick and try to push it off. But it just doesn't want to go. The solution: It's time to throw those shib-shib away! [sic]

Even the now infamous Hala Misrati had a soapy blog called Nazf or bleeding about romance and lost love which was actually quite a daring and bold blog.

Blogger Ghida was also one of the subtly outspoken ones with journalistic types of reports until she ended up exposed after the Feb 17 Revolution on national TV in the talk show of Hala Misrati with her private life and phone calls to be heard by all the Libyans or anyone watching satellite TV. It was rumoured that she and Hala were colleagues and friends.

Her old blog is gone and only the one with poetry is left up.

Six months on and it is heartbreaking to look at how eerie the Libyan blogosphere is, row upon row of bloggers in Libya are silent because of the on-going war. From the silent ones you realize that they are in the cities under Gaddafi control and therefore have no access to the internet.

The Libyan war though has brought some of the bloggers out of the woodwork at least those that had left the country for studying. Like Happymoi who says:

I watch the news and my heart is full of pain. I feel everything inside of me is broken to pieces. So many people are dying. Libya is famous now, everyone knows of it, everyone. It is the tragic situation that made it so well known. I wish things were different. I wake up every morning thinking about Libya. I wake up every morning wishing things were different.

But you realize that any one blogging from the old crowd is either abroad now or in Benghazi such as Starlit who laments: ” ive been through stuff ive never thought I would experience.[sic]“
or Benghazicitizen who writes :

I close my eyes ,I see those who were killed ..
I see the tired face of my mother..
The shocked face of my sister..
The anger in my brother eyes..
The determination in my father's..
And I see faces from my life…
My friends..some of them will never come back..

I can see a nucleus of what freedom has brought to Libyans in the posts coming from what the media is calling the liberated territories. The evolution is palpable most notably in Omar Al Muktar's daughter. In March she was still anonymous and fresh from the shock of the liberation of Benghazi:

what happened in Benghazi & libya was really a new page & an impossible mission we never believed that Libyan young men could do it ………….& they did it [sic]

But by June she was confident to put her real name and surname (Ruwida Ashour) and that is something not many Libyan bloggers inside Libya dared to do before.

So if you are in the liberated parts of Libya you can expect to express yourself freely against the Gaddafi government which PH just did by putting up a carpet with a Gaddafi photo used as a doormat.

I don't know yet if you can criticize the National Transitional Council though!

The last posts from Tripoli were made by Khadijateri and Highlander four months ago. They carried some hope when the Internet was very briefly reinstated.

But there are also some new bloggers on the scene and which describe the Libyan's perspective from a fresh angle. The Harimna Notes is a blog in Arabic which chronicles the events of the Feb 17 revolution from day one. It consists of the stories collected by a Libyan individual who wishes to remain anonymous and repackaged by famous opposition writer Ashur Shamis.

The chronicler was inside Libya and left about two months ago, so now his diary consists of daily opinions on the current events in Libya.

There is also the war blog of the Displaced Libyan who is unable to return home.

I’m not sure how to start as it’s now going to be almost two months since the wall of silence broke. I have kept a diary with some notes, I’ll be using that as skeleton plan and flesh it out along the way. I also have a lot of comments about what I’m reading in the media. I realize that many may feel out of their comfort zone when reading me , but that is just who I am… Never one to comply or follow blindly. Beware I’m very opinionated but don’t take it personally.

If you are tired of propaganda from both the pro Gaddafi and the anti Gaddafi camps then you will find the blog ‘refreshing’ though the posts are quite long.

Another Libyan blog chronicling the war is Libya SOS. It is one of the few blogs which is not with the rebels.

If posting from Libya then it must be manned by Gaddafi's electronic army because ordinary Libyans in Tripoli do not have access to internet unless they got hold of a VSAT or Thuraya phone. However, obviously the person running the blog is putting a lot of effort into finding news, links and photos that aim to counteract the news in the MSM about rebel gains. It shows us another aspect of this war and makes one stop to think about everything that we hear or read about. Regardless of our stand in this war it is good for us to see the other side of the conflict, which is why it is featured in this article.

The blogger is wondering why his or her voice is not featured in the media:

Very interesting LibyaSOS can not be on CNN, BBC, AlArabiya, Al Jazeera, SkyNews, France24… Twitter list ? WHY?! Why not ?!? Because I don't speak English very well like @Sbhafreedom @FreeLibya @FreeBenghazi … Is it reason ? or.. because I am not so fancy like NATO-led rebels [sic]

Whatever the result of the Libyan war of 2011, it has allowed all Libyans to find their voices once again and if their voice was silenced before, it is now more confident and definitely very opinionated. They will no longer be muzzled.

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.

Thumbnail image of northeastern Libyan city of Ajdabiya, by Tomasz Grzyb, copyright Demotix (29/04/2011).

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