After the regime change in 2011, Libyan women aspired to play an active role in society particularly in civil society. I met an extraordinary civil society activist called Arwa in Tripoli in 2013. Arwa works in the relief sector with the UNHCR. She introduced me to the slums of Tripoli and helped me highlight the issues present in Tripoli's Old City (Medina). When I got to know Arwa more, I discovered the Iron woman she is. That is when I decided to follow her story as the first Libyan female I know that took up boxing as a hobby. Boxing was banned in Libya until 2011 and Arwa took the chance to train and encourage Libyan women to discover this sport and take it as a hobby.
Arwa was training in a Mens only gym in Tripoli and despite the challenges she met during her visits, she kept on training until one day she decided to quit the gym and move to a Womens only gym due to an incident of harassment.
Once Arwa moved to a Womens only gym, she ran boxing classes for Libyan girls in her spare time. Eventually, she left the country as her work relocated in 2014. She is currently doing cross-fit and still working for the UN mission in the MENA region.
"The Slums of Tripoli" was my first photojournalism story and the reason behind it was when I posted a photo on Facebook of a young girl selling napkins in Tripoli during the night. The photo went viral on Facebook with many people denying that she was a Libyan- even though her nationality wasn't the main focus of the photograph. An activist contacted me and asked me if I would like to visit the Old City and document the dire living conditions of many Libyans and help shed a light to this unspoken issue in Tripoli's heart.
Tripoli's Old City (Madina) was neglected by Gaddafi's regime with most of it ruined and falling apart. After the regime fell, it faced even worse circumstances. Historical buildings either collapsed or were demolished to make room to build new living spaces. Poverty, drugs and socially neglected families such as Libyan women who married to non libyans lived in the Old City as well as Libyan families who fled their homes during the revolution. Children live in very poor and dangerous environment that needed to be highlighted to the Libyan society that was clueless of how terrible the reality for these children and families was.
I published this story and managed to get the attention of people but not the government. Therefore, due to the fact that this was an urgent situation I started a campaign which was called "Save the Old City Campaign" where many local NGO's got involved which resulted in more NGOs and volunteers shed a light on this issue and bring awareness to the public about it.
1.2.2014. Two weeks before the anniversary of 17th of Feb revolution. The Libyan National football team won its first African title. This title brought a sense of unity in the country which was a cause for great celebrations taking place in Libya's capital.
This event was extremely special to Libya's citizens because after three years of unrest in the country after the revolution, Libyans were desperate for a moment like this. I made sure to capture these moments of celebrations as we never knew if a moment like this would come back again. Shops selling Libyan flags made a lot of profit that night too!
As popular frustration with Libya’s interim government grew, the oil industry has become the target of violent attacks, strikes, and civil protests, as well as a vehicle of opposition for those with more specific political agendas. Local leaders, tribal groups, Islamists, and factional militias all appear to be working against the new government’s efforts to consolidate its power. It seems that workers in oilfields around the country are now guiding the course of national politics, and have in a sense become the new and powerful decision makers.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has threatened to use force against people who are attempting to decentralize government power by targeting pipelines, refineries and oil export terminals. But still a number of facilities have been disrupted. In November 2013, the Mellitah oil and gas complex, in the west of the country near the Tunisian border, was seized and closed down by members of the local Amazigh (Berber) minority, who were demanding acknowledgement of their ethnic identity (which they say the new regime continues to deny), extension of their political rights, and that their language be guaranteed by the constitution. In Tobruk, in the east of the country, federalists took over oilfields, attempting to stop production or take it under their own control. Here and elsewhere a range different anti-government factions are using closure of oilfields as a political weapon.
Oil is at the heart of Libya’s economy. If workers in the oilfields go on strike, the government has to take notice. But the people who take control of the oilfields frequently start to use the situation to their own advantage, pursuing ends that benefit them as individuals, or are of political worth to their own interest group, rather than to the country as a whole.
In my attempt to investigate these issues, I started my journey in Mellitah, a town west of Tripoli, near Tunisian border. The local people here are Amazigh (known to others as Berber). The Amazigh have inhabited the mountains and deserts of North Africa for centuries, pre-dating the Arab conquest of the area. They consider themselves the original Libyans, but were repressed and persecuted under Muammar Gaddafi, in his attempt to turn Libya into a homogenous Arabic society. The Amazigh language and script, which is distinct from Arabic, was banned—it could not be taught in schools, and even giving children Amazigh names, and singing traditional songs, was forbidden. I interviewed and photographed the people behind the Mellitah strike, which had started after other protests and attempts to get government attention had failed. The Amazigh strikers were demanding that their dialect be officially recognized as a language and included in Libya’s soon-to-be formed constitution. The pipeline was later reopened, when the government gave promises to discuss the issue with the Amazigh, and meet their demands.
In my interviews with the workers of the Dahra field in the Sahara, a further complication arose, in that large numbers of the workers there are non-Libyans, who find themselves trapped in post-revolutionary Libya, and without financial support if production stops.
I also visited the port city of Tobruk, in the east of the country, near the border with Egypt. Here, federalists—who want to see the country divided into different self-governing regions, and who accuse Prime Minister Zeidan’s government of incompetence and corruption—went on a strike that halted oil exports, because they said the government did not recognize their demands. This led to further strikes on other issues, such as salaries.
It seems that all across the country, different groups are using control over oil production— crucial to Libya’s economy—to exercise their own agendas. In the absence of effective government, it is these people who have become the nation’s decision makers.
This story was featured in World Press Photo.
Libyan traditional weddings are usually not mixed where men and women celebrate separately. Weddings in the past traditionally lasted 7 days but recently and specially due to the financial crisis in the country, it was shortened to one to three days depending on the family. The main party is usually hosted in a wedding hall for the women. On the other hand, the men's party was never as exciting and eventful as the ladies. Traditionally, the men's side of the celebration consisted of one or two days that are hosted by the family for either a lunch or dinner meal where the whole neighbourhood along with relatives and friends are invited. Apart from that, the rest of the days normally consist of tea nights and on the final day, a "Zukra" (male group that play on different traditional instruments) is brought to the neighbourhood for entertainment. I documented some of the weddings that took place in my neighbourhood to show what goes on behind a Libyan wedding tent.
Growing up in Tajoura, the eastern district of Tripoli where the Andalusian, Turkish Arab and Amazighi heritage mix I spent my summers going to a Quranic school called "Zawia". It was years later when I realised how deep the Sufi tradition was embedded in our society. I never came close with my roots until after the revolution when Sufi shrines, Zawia and mosques were subjected to several attacks all over the country. What I thought was worse was that was systematically accepted in Libya's society. 600 year old heritage was totally wiped out. I followed some Sufi figures who mostly fled Libya now and covered the Sufi struggle to celebrate and practice their traditions. This is a short story as I'm working on a multi-media story and a follow up covering the Sufi struggle in the Libyan society.
For the first time in decades, Sufis were celebrating Milud - Prophet Mohammad's birthday- with a chance of an attack and because there was no security after the revolution, they decided to take up arms and defend themselves of any attack.
Most Sufi shrines and mosques are now destroyed unfortunately. However, that didn't stop them from praying in the ruins.
Ghat Festival is the largest festival in Libya and has been running since 1994. It usually takes place in the end of the year around December because of the nice weather as well as being the peak of tourism period where tourists have their holidays. Ghat festival shows a mixture of Arab and African traditions however mainly Tuareg traditons who inhabit the city of Ghat. The festival have many musical events as well as camel races known as (Mahari). It also includes a traditional market where people exhibit their hand made traditional products that range from clothes, shoes, jewellery and homeware. It is also a great opportunity to explore the mind-blowing scenes and beauty of the Sahara nearby as Ghat is bordered by the Akakus mountains and beautiful dunes.
After 2011, locals faced an issue with lack of finance from both the government and oil companies who used to sponsor the festival. However, the locals always tried to keep the festival going despite shortage on finance, security and tourism as they believe it is a celebration of their culture.
A lot of events took place in Libya between 2011 to 2014. I've been around the country documenting most of these events that occurred mainly in Tripoli.
I tried to make these as short of highlights as I could but on the other hand wanted you to relive these important events. You will notice that this section contains many photographs but trust me, it is worth scrolling down to the end.
Beautiful landscape and monuments from Libya's capital, Tripoli, along with other cities. Some of the monuments in this album no longer exist as they were subjected to attacks and destruction.
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