'Voice of Free Libya' battles Qaddafi – on air
Broadcasters once forced to praise Muammar Qaddafi as the "king of all Africa" open Libya's first uncensored radio station in decades.
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'What we did was 100 percent propaganda'
Benghazi Radio – on which a young Army officer named Muammar al-Qaddafi announced the Sept. 1, 1969, bloodless coup that ushered him into power – was burned during last week’s uprising. The station lost its equipment at the government radio and TV building downtown. But employees have set up a studio at the transmitter station and have been up and running since Feb. 19.Skip to next paragraph
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As he announced his coup in 1969, Qaddafi said that he was overthrowing a corrupt monarchy in the name of freedom. Now the Voice of Free Libya is trying to make that word mean something.
“What we did most of the time was 100 percent propaganda,” says broadcaster Ahmed Omar el-Naili, who recalls a call a few years ago from Tripoli in the middle of a broadcast on the weakness of government, ordering him to “stop now.”
“It’s true that most of us used to work for the dictator," whom he and his colleagues were ordered to refer to as the “king of all Africa” and “our dear leader," Naili says. "But we had little choice. Coming to work every day, it felt like a gun was being held to our heads. I’m not getting paid, but it’s an incredible relief to be speaking freely for the first time in my life.”
'We're fighting back'
In addition to the radio station, another nascent step toward democracy is the interim city council of Benghazi, which was set up on Friday and is hoping to convince other liberated cities to back former Justice Minister Mustafa Abd el-Jalil, the first Qaddafi official to break with the regime, as the leader of a provisional government.
To be sure, Libya is a tribal society, and Qaddafi has skillfully played upon and fed old rivalries for decades. Strong government institutions, with the possible exception of the Oil Ministry, do not exist.
Many are concerned that when the revolutionary moment passes, with almost everyone insisting that “Libyans are one hand,” trouble could loom. Could a young officer in the mold of Qaddafi seek to wrest control of the country? Will tribes deeply suspicious of centralized power after 41 years of abuse rise up? All that – and more – is possible.
But for now, the spirit of unity in cities like Benghazi is holding up. And it’s something that the Voice of Free Libya’s now-volunteer staff are trying to support.
“Qaddafi has his plan to distribute weapons to his tribesmen, to create chaos and division,” says Omar Mohammed Jetalawi, the senior engineer at the station. “He’s using his media to fight the revolution. We’re fighting back.”