Libya then and now: A study in contrast

LIBYA in state of chaos you read in newspapers, hear over the radio and see on t.v. today is a big contrast to Libya we visited in June 1990.

I was among 116 foreign journalists from all over the world who came to Libyan Arab soil as guests of Libyan government for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the dismantling of US military bases and eviction of US forces from Libyan Arab soil.

The historical event was the culmination of bloodless revolution on Sept. 1, 1969 when military forces led by Moammar Kadaffi, 27 years old at the time of uprising, seized power and established Revolutionary Command Council.

King Idris I, who had ruled the country since 1951, was deposed without any shot fired. He was out of the country.

When I arrived in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, we brought with us many thoughts of this country, its people, and its leader Moammar Kadaffi. They were mostly negative, fed to us by Western media.

With an open mind, I considered my first visit in Libya a great opportunity to discover for myself the real Libya.

A quick look at the map will show the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (which means the rule by the masses) is in North Africa, brounded by six African countries – Tunisia and Algeria in the west, Niger and Chad in the south, Sudan and Egypt in the east. The Mediterranean Sea is in north.

Libya occupies an area of 675,000 square miles which is about six times bigger than the land area of the Philippines. It has a temperate climate, but the temperature rises as one moves south and gets lower in the mountainous regions.

The day we arrived in June, it was humid.

Based on our government-prepared itinerary and reading materials I still keep, we had the feeling that our host wanted us to see what has become of Libya 20 years after they evicted the Americans and the British.

Abdullah, one of our guides who spoke halting and Arabic-accented English (which, he said, he learned from a local school), congratulated me after reading news reports that the Philippine government had served the US a notice of
termination of its military bases.

“Your President must be brave like Khadaffi to muster enough nerve to tell the Americans to leave you alone,’’ he said.

“We will probably do it gradually because many people will lose their jobs with the sudden withdrawal of US forces from the Philippines,” we said.

“We did it abruptly here and look what happened to us after starting from nothing 20 years ago. Nobody knew or noticed Libya then, but look now. Who does not known Libya  today?’’ asks Abdullah.

In 1969 there were five American bases on the Mediterranean coast of Libya. They were Wheelus at Augba Ibno Nafex, Alwtiya, Bier,  Alusta Milad, Rasa Lanuf, and Abna Laha.

The British also occupied a portion Libyan territory and set up its own bases there. They were evicted two months before the Americans. (To be continued)- Cornelio de Guzman

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