In verse and prose, Benghazi liberates speech

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 Muammar Gaddafi 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 Gaddafi in 1969, and features an interview with the new Italian consul, sent by Rome to the rebel capital.

Versus of martyrs
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 Gaddafi’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 500 dirhams (30 US 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 Gaddafi, 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, 800km by road to the west, which for weeks was besieged by Gaddafi’s forces.

The women circling Fatma said they would also write poems and recite verses penned by other writers in support of the anti-Gaddafi revolt and their boys on the front line.

In Intefathat Al-Ahrar newspaper, a poem by Eman Malek:
We have been suffering for far too long
But we won’t bear anymore
Because we have a voice now
Somewhere a clock is ticking
Your time is up
Time is on our side now
For 42 years you kept us caged
But we are spreading our wings now
We have learned how to fly.
— AFP

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