By Farah Waleed.
Benghazi, 21 October 2017:
A group of volunteers yesterday started a new local clean-up campaign, this time in Benghazi’s landmark Maidan Al-Shajara, Tree Square. It was a military zone for three years during the conflict between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and extremists.
Located in the city centre, it is one of its main, historical squares and connects Omar Ibn Al-As Street and Istiqlal (Independence) Street (or Qaddafi’s rebranding of it as Gamal Abdel Nasser Street as many still call it). It was a major gathering point at the start of the revolution.
The volunteers are members of two civil society organisations; Libya For Everyone and Al-Amal (Hope) Foundation. The later carried out the cleaning campaign of the main road in front of Tibesti Hotel.
A strong will, brooms, shovels, wheelbarrows and bare hands have been the only equipment on show although there was help and support from the civil defence authority. Benghazi’s Red Crescent committee have also been taking part in the campaign.
Selfies with shovels and brooms are being proudly posted on Facebook with a big smile saying “despite destruction, we clean Benghazi”.
Posts have been circulated on social media to encourage Benghazinos to join in and clean the city centre. “With fun and enjoyment, we are going on cleaning a strong Benghazi”, posts read.
The volunteers say there has been no backing from the Beida-based government or Benghazi municipality. Bloggers and activists have mocked the lack of support, saying that when there is no money, there is no interest from official quarters.
The square was named after a large cedar tree that was at its centre and which was decorated at celebrations.
Its shade was used as a temporary break for those while waiting for the local bus. Many Benghazinos have memories of waiting but enjoying the cool breeze. Some, indeed, tell how they would hope that the bus would be delayed so they could enjoy the cool breeze all the longer.
The square today is a sad sight. Three years of fighting during the war that erupted in 2014 against Ansar Al-Sharia and other militants has reaped a bitter reward.
The tree has gone and a large number of the fine buildings erected during the Italian era are completely destroyed.
Reconstruction plans are not yet known although it is reported that acting mayor Abdulrahman Elabber has asked Aisha Yousef, one of the city’s members of the House of Representatives, to organise a conference next January on rebuilding it.
Regardless of what happens there, the Amal Foundation say it is going to replant a new cedar tree.