I arrived yesterday afternoon with no problems and no militias at the airport, and today was my first day in the office. It’s a small Embassy, although it’s getting bigger – I’m in the first wave of “permanent staff” arriving this summer. (Since the Embassy was reopened last September, most positions have been filled by a string of short- and medium-term temporary staffers, most of whom are rotating out this summer.) Hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll be back up to our pre-Revolution size, though now we’re in a much smaller compound!
I got a brief tour of the city of Tripoli en route to a meeting this evening. I saw a number of locations that I only know about from the narratives of the Revolution – Martyrs’ Square (formerly Green Square), Bab al Aziziyah (the Gadhafi compound, which is now a pile of rubble), the Rixos Hotel (where journalists were virtually held hostage in the early days of the Revolution). It’s incredibly moving to see these sites and to realize how recent the scars are from the Revolution. Graffiti is everywhere in the city – from casual scrawling to artistic, detailed imagery. There are names of the martyrs, satirical drawings of Gadhafi, and images of the new Libyan flag everywhere. The one phrase you can see over and over is ١٧ فبراير ليبيا حرة – “February 17th, Free Libya.” That’s the day the uprising started, and it’s the date by which this revolution is hashtagged on Twitter. (All of the Arab national uprisings are abbreviated that way – #Jan25 for Egypt, #Feb17 for Libya, #Mar15 for Syria, etc.)
Today the date of the election, the first free election in Libya’s history, was publicly announced as 7 July. There are billboards all over the city, depicting Libyans holding up their voter registration cards. On our way back from a meeting tonight, my colleague asked our driver which party he preferred. The driver shrugged, stated his preference, and said, “But you know, these politics are new for Libya.” It was the simplest statement I’ve heard of what Libyans face in the next months and years, as well as how far they’ve already come.
I can already tell that there will be days where I’ll be frustrated with the limitations on my movements here and the challenges inherent in rebuilding a Mission from the ground up. Still, I’m so glad I’m here at this juncture of history.