BENGHAZI, Libya — Freedom of speech is the name of the game in Revolution Square in the Libyan rebel capital of Benghazi, where new publications have blossomed and women recite poetry in public.
“When the revolution started, I had three choices: become a soldier, or a journalist, or stay at home and sleep,” said Abdallah, brimming with enthusiasm. “I’m a journalist!”
With the insurgency against Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi came free speech in a country stifled by 42 years of dictatorship.
Dozens of young Libyans like Abdallah, of both sexes, have since turned to journalism or poetry.
The revolt has inspired a flurry of new newspapers and public speaking, often in the form of poems recited in Revolution Square.
Abdallah’s newspaper has the Berber name of “Tamort,” or Homeland, and publishes six Arabic pages and two in English each week.
The latest issue honours the memory of King Idriss, who was overthrown by Gadhafi in 1969, and features an interview with the new Italian consul, sent by Rome to the rebel capital.
The questioning is direct and the interview competent, even if they forgot to name the consul, Guido de Sanctis.
“We put the paper together at my place. We go to press on Tuesday for it to come out on Thursday,” Abdallah explained.
A Thursday print-run means the paper can be sold to worshippers leaving Friday’s main Muslim weekly prayers at Revolution Square, where the flags fly of countries taking part in air strikes on Gadhafi’s forces.
It’s the ideal place to sell the many publications that have sprung up in the Mediterranean city, all produced in the same format by the same printer, and each costing 30 cents.
On dusty carpets surrounded by portraits of young men “martyred” in the uprising, residents of Benghazi can pray, vent their revolutionary zeal and hatred of Gadhafi, and recite poetry.
“I used to write poetry before but I stopped. I’ve picked it up again since the revolution,” said former Arabic teacher Fatma Abdallah in a corner of the square reserved for women.
Her poem is written in Arabic on a yellow sheet torn from the February pages of a diary, the month when the revolt broke out.
Her verses speak of martyrs and of her son imprisoned in the port city of Misrata, 800 kilometres by road to the west, which for weeks was besieged by Gadhafi’s forces.
The women circling Fatma said they would also write poems and recite verses penned by other writers in support of the anti-Gadhafi revolt and their boys on the front line.
Image: Mohammed Salem, Reuters