A short chronicle of an aid worker in Benghazi
The Tibesti Hotel was, during the Libyan revolution, the headquarters of the transitional authorities in Benghazi. As an aid worker, I spent two weeks there, taking part in the microcosm that was coordinating the international community support to the people of Benghazi. This typically 70s Arab style, out-fashioned and underused massive of a hotel seemed more appropriate for prompt oil deals in the Gaddafi Libya than for endless political talks in the fog of a revolution.
But with the 17 February revolution, the city of Benghazi was rapidly won to the cause of the rebels, and the Tibesti was soon invested by officials, activists, journalists, NGO workers, and foreign dignitaries installing their offices in the upper floors. Outside, under the constant rattling sounds of celebratory gunfire, a few self-appointed security men were sitting near the burned down Green book centre nearby, while the people were gathering and chanting every night on their own colorful version of Tahrir square. In the midst of anarchy, the young revolutionaries even occupied the local headquarters of the national oil company to organize a fair and meetings with burgeoning civil society organizations. Working closely with those young activists and other officials, I witnessed and shared their hopes and frustrations, their excitement and anxiety in front of the many difficult challenges ahead. An incredible energy was driving everyone to challenge each other with essential questions on the future of their country. But the doubts were palpable, fueled by the stalling efforts of the rebel forces in West Libya. The road to Tripoli was still very long and the Ramadan was only just starting.
The Tibesti hotel was the centre of gravity of this peaceful but very fragile anarchy. In the front, young activists were protesting every night against their marginalisation from the big talks with the new transitional authorities. In the lobby salons, flocks of journalists, tribe members and NTC officials were exchanging analyses and watching news reports on TV. Being the centre of attention, the Tibesti hotel was an ideal target for the frustration, anger and doubts of the people of Benghazi. In late July, when the general Younes was assassinated, rumors spread out like fire in the Tibesti. Shortly after the NTC officials held their press conference in the 1st floor meeting hall, the hotel lobby was attacked by Younes fellow tribe members angered at the turn of events. Initial confusion escalated to utter panic in a fraction of seconds. It is actually fascinating to witness how differently people react when facing immediate danger: most of them (including myself) were running away to safety, while others (bored war reporters reading twitter feeds from their desks) were attempting to get a closer look at the action. The situation seemed completely normal the morning after, like nothing happened. But the self-appointed security guards were gone and the rumour mill was running full-steam in the breakfast room. So I quickly left the place for a (supposedly) more secure location (which turned out not to be).
During this time in Benghazi, I had only very little time for photography, as I worked many hours to complete the objectives of my mission and somehow contribute to the effort of solidarity with the Libyan people. So, no fancy photojournalism here, some have infinite more talent for this and others have died as heroes to report on the real faces of this revolution. This here is merely a personal account of what it is to enter the fog of a revolution as a young aid worker.