By Mathieu Galtier.
Benghazi, 17 February 2o13:
The President of General National Congress (GNC), Mohamed Magarief together with three government ministers were in Benghazi’s Tahrir Square this morning, Sunday, to mark the second anniversary of the 17 February Revolution. Turnout, however, was low compared to Friday when thousands poured into the square to celebrate the day two years ago when Benghazi rose up against the Qaddafi regime and also demand the return to the city of organisations removed to Tripoli. Those in the square today were in their hundreds.
In his speech, Magarief saluted Benghazi as “birthplace of the revolution”. The martyrs, he added, were no longer present but “their memories are”.
Focussing on the need for reconciliation between the victors of the revolution and those who had been linked to the old regime, he called on the latter who were living abroad to return to the country. Libya “opens its arms to you”, he said and “welcomes you to return to the bosom and make your contribution” to rebuilding the country. Those among them who had committed crimes could be assured of a fair trial, he promised.
He also said that Congress was looking a proposals from a number of members another cash grant to every Libyan family to celebrate the second anniversary of the revolution.
Referring to the state of security in the country, he stressed that it was the responsibility of every Libyan citizen, male and female. It was, he said, an absolute necessity but that at the moment the crisis surrounding it was stopping Libya from moving ahead. In particular, it was preventing the return of foreign companies.
Magarief was accompanied by Deputy Premier Awad Al-Barasi, Interior minister Ashour Shuwail, and Defence Minister Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Bargati.
Their presence was designed to emphasize that both Congress and the government are not ignoring Benghazi and the east, and are sympathetic to its demands. He was given a respectful hearing in marked contrast to Friday when the crowds criticized him and warned that he would be replaced if he did not meet the demands for the return of the institutions.
The cries today were generally much more polite. “No east! No west! Libya is one nation!” people shouted during his speech.
At the back of the crowd, however, the feelings were different. During his address, dozens of young people were chanting “Magariaf, please, say to the Muslim brotherhood Benghazi is not an easy city!”
Others said that they were tired with politicians’ words. “It was the same words two years ago!” said one of those present, Mohamed El Yemeni. “The revolution started in Benghazi, yeah, big deal. Everybody knows that! We want plans for Benghazi: we want jobs, we want the companies back. They should pay Benghazi for what we did for the revolution.”
There was criticism from younger Benghazi residents that Magarief and the government minister had gone to Tahrir Square in the morning when the crowd were small rather than this evening when, again, thousands were expected.
“Magarief couldn’t go at night to Tahrir Square with all the young activists, especially after the speeches on Friday night”, one observer stated.
As on Friday, the rally went ahead peacefully, but security was very high to protect the Magarief and the ministers. That, several residents told the Libya Herald, was because everyone in the city wanted to prove to authorities that Benghazi was not unstable and also because there were no Qaddafi followers there.