By Sami Zaptia
Tripoli, April 7
If you asked most of Libya’s youth today, up to say the age of 35, when exactly did the Libyan Revolution to depose the dictator Muamar Qaddafi start, they would probably say sometime in the second half of February 2011.
I would hazard to guess that few of them would say that it was as far back as April 7, 1976. And I would not blame them for that since events of that date occurred well before the overwhelming majority of them were born.
For indeed it was on April 7, 1976, that Libyan students who had had enough of Qaddafi’s repression dared to demonstrate to show their unhappiness at the interference of his security services and the vile Revolutionary Guards in their student lives.
Whilst there were already by 1976 many cases of oppression by the increasingly intolerant regime against individuals, matters took a completely new dimension in the spring of 1976. Libyan students had had enough of the dictatorship’s continued efforts to totally control and suppress them, and reacted by demonstrating.
This attempt at the exercise of a basic freedom of expression was met with an iron fist by the tyrannical regime in the form of shootings, torture and long periods of arrest.
On April 7 of 1977, Qaddafi decided to pre-empt or make a political point of this date, by marking it with the erection of gallows in the grounds of Al-Fatah University (now back to being Tripoli University) and in the main square in Benghazi.
Numerous students were then ceremoniously hanged until dead during the holy fasting month of Ramadan at evening peak viewing time live on Libyan TV. Those images have been seared into the psyche of Libyan people for decades. They remained strong and fresh and were vividly remembered when the February 17 Revolution erupted in 2011.
It is therefore important for Libya’s young generation, credited with toppling the Qaddafi regime– and most of who were born after 1976 – to keep in mind that the first martyrs of the February 17 Revolution died a long time ago in April 1976. To this sad list of victims, of course, another 1,200 were added by the Bu-Sleem prison massacre in 1996.
Those who are truly thuwar and those who call themselves thuwar must not to forget when all this started – back in 1977 by their uncles and aunts, fathers and mothers, cousins and maybe even grandfathers and grandmothers.
It is on the anniversary of this poignant day important to remember that it is not all about the February 17 Revolution martyrs alone. Martyrdom for the Libyan Revolution started at least in 1976 and many would argue as far back as September 1969 – if not October 1911.
February 17 finished off what was started a long time ago. We should understand and remember our history. We should not give too much credit for ourselves and for the present without understanding the role of the past and the role of history.
Today affects our moulding of tomorrow, but today is also built upon the brave deeds and history of yesterday. The history of April 7 (Sabaa’ Abril as we say in Arabic) and Bu-Sleem are an indistinguishable part and ingredient of the February 17 Revolution.
Those who contributed are numerous and spread all along Libya’s history, maybe well beyond 1969 if we are to recall those who sacrificed themselves during the Italian colonial years post 1911. Let us today remember and honour them all on this pivotal day in Libya’s history.
Looking to the future, let our new leaders of today and of tomorrow, post democratic elections, also remember. People remember injustices, in Libya’s case for decades and in history for even centuries. Do good and people will remember. Do bad of your people and be ready for the consequences. People don’t forget. We must not forget. Let us honour all those who made sacrifices before, so that we can benefit from their sacrifice.