How a daring band of anti-Qaddafi activists helped turn the tide in Tripoli
Special report: The small anti-Qaddafi Free Generation Movement took huge risks to raise rebel flag and post video of flash protests. The insights they gained in challenging the regime may help shape a new Libya.
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Security forces shut down the whole district. They interrogated Niz's family members. Niz's sister Mervat Mhani – a core member of the FGM and a dental graduate – was questioned for nine hours, though they were unaware of her role.Skip to next paragraph
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"They took her away. They were very horrible to her at first and threatened to take her children away," says Niz. "They said: 'How do you feel now that we have to take your kids away from you and raise them for you?' "
Later, they plied her with cakes and sweet drinks, Ms. Mhani recalls.
In the raids, pro-Qaddafi operatives did, in fact, take away Niz's brother Hamza. They said they knew he was not an activist – clearly unaware that he also was a founding member of the FGM – and then subjected him to five or six doses of electrical shocks, and prison for a month afterward, to try to convince Niz to reveal himself.
"They did a full-on military raid, very heavy-handed, considering we were a peaceful, nonviolent movement," says Niz. "It just shows they took any opposition very seriously."
Earning a place in Libya's history
Niz was never caught. It wasn't long before he and the others realized they were being hunted, with security forces using the triangulated coordinates of their cellphone calls to position them to within 200 yards.
They went west of Tripoli, dumped their phones in an abandoned house, and then traveled back to the east, to a second, new safe house. Except for a bold, exposed bid to recapture the VSAT dish from the original headquarters – sending out scouts to be sure it was not being watched – the FGM kept a low profile until Tripoli fell to rebel forces on Aug. 21.
The nightmare of Qaddafi's rule in the capital was over. Niz and the FGM had earned a place in the history of Libya's Arab Spring revolution.
So how is the Free Generation Movement now helping Libya move out of the resistance phase? The answer lies on Mervat Mhani's living-room table, where pens, paper, and computer keyboards are the remains of yet another all-night brainstorming session.
Top priority is to establish mafqood.org, a DNA database whose name means "missing." FGM is putting the database together to help Libyans trace family members who were victims of the regime or were arrested and lost during the conflict. Thousands are known to be missing, with some official estimates as high as 25,000 Libyans.
"It's one of many projects that we are going to do, but with mafqood we all believe that the stabilization of families [means] the stabilization of Libya – all of it," says Ms. Mhani. "Once they have closure, and know what happened to their loved ones, then Libya can move forward."
Already FGM has mounted public awareness campaigns with videos, such as one condemning racism against dark-skinned Libyans and Africans, who are often targeted as suspected pro-Qaddafi mercenaries.
They have also mounted a campaign against celebratory shooting in the air, because of the danger of falling bullets. "For every problem I see, I see a solution," says Mhani. "We now have the freedom to fix those problems, which we did not have before."
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