On the surface, at least, these are youm maasel, or sweet days, in Benghazi.
On the surface, at least, these are youm maasel, or sweet days, in Benghazi. Strolling along the seafront I pass the exuberant crowds who have set up camp in Liberation Square. There are carpets laid out for prayers and around them, flags and trinkets coloured in the distinctive red, black and green of Libya Hora — free Libya. Around the square triumphal marches take place and from a ramshackle platform excitable rebels deliver speeches about imminent victory. Two colonels, both called Ali, have set up shop on the Corniche in front of an old Mig fighter. Their stand displays exciting paintings of engagements between the free Libyan air force and troops loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.
But Benghazi could easily return to youm basal — onion days. Even amid the celebrations, the tragic cost of the battle is visible. The mothers of the fallen sit in the shade under a makeshift tent in front of the courthouse holding pictures of their loved ones. The hospitable nature and cheerful countenance of the average Libyan hides (at least initially) the concern and grief over lost relations, but every day more stories of appalling atrocities emerge, backed up by graphic mobile-phone footage. It’s hard to watch. It’s hard to think of the crimes against history being perpetrated, too. The rebels say that Gaddafi’s forces have begun to shell the ancient oasis town of Ghadames. I went to Ghadames when I was last in Libya 12 years ago with the travel writer (and Spectator contributor) Justin Marozzi. We began in the city and bumped along for 1,500 painful miles by camel.