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It was the beginning of the year 1969 in Tripoli, Libya where my family’s story had started. There were rumors dispelling and there were talks of King Idris being made to step down. Later on it became true that an army official with the name of Captain Gaddafi was one of the main conspirators along with many junior army officers.
The fact that Libya was and still is, exceptionally abundant in oil, was one of the main reasons it remained an Italian and later on a British-France Allied colony for many years. The influence was not only political, but it could also be seen in daily life. The local grocery store, pizza shops, patisseries and the way the tailors would master the suits; all reeked post-colonization effects.
Even though oil seemed a blessing for the increase of Libya’s wealth, it seemed detrimental for Libya’s socio-political policies. Which King Idris himself had helped construct when he took over from the colony and with his advisors, the Libyan constitution had been born. However, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser had a severe influence on Gaddafi and his ideology of pan-Arab nationalism or Nasserism was slowly taking spreading in various parts of Arab states and North Africa.
My father had taken my mother to the hospital to give birth to my eldest sister. Shortly after her birth, within less then 24 hours, the coup had been taken over and my mother had to be immediately sent home since there was a great deal of speculation and apprehension as to what would happen next. The hospital was kind enough to send a nurse with my mother for three days to monitor her and her first-born. Nonetheless, the coup was a smooth transition, a bloodless carefully planned one; as my mother thoughtfully recalls it.
Libya, from them on, would never be the same under General Gaddafi’s rule. The Libyan Constitution ceased to exist. Whatever words he would utter, with immediate effect, become the law. No one had the choice to refute it, what he said, was as good as done. Since he had severe ambivalence towards any “western” foreign influences, all foreign languages were removed from the local schools. This was exceptionally difficult for my eldest sister’s education. There were already less then a handful Pakistanis residing in Libya (as opposed to the present situation). However, luckily my parents had found a small British school in Maadi and in another neighborhood there was a slightly bigger American school. Regardless of the fact that Gaddafi wanted all of the western influences out of Libya, some of the international schools and international companies remained, however, in decreased sizes.
Since my father was with a British company, the size of the office had decreased significantly. Most of the Europeans had left, hence promoting him to manager. He then had to do a lot of traveling to neighboring countries such as Tunisia. He mainly traveled to the capital Tunis. Tunis was developing very rapidly and was known for its history, development in education, high growth prospects turning it into metropolitan and very clean city. The Tunisians seemed very happy with the infrastructure of the country since it seemed to be beneficial in the long run. However, this was all prior to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 23 year rule.
A few years later my second eldest sister was born. During that time Gaddafi had become an extreme supporter of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). He allowed many of the Palestinians to start living in Libya and make it their home. He instructed the Libyan people to welcome them. This caused a great deal of problems not only for the locals but also for my parents.
If Palestinians would see an empty house or and “extra” house owned by a Libyan that there were not living in, and then they would just walk in brashly and aggressively say “we are now living here”. There was very little the locals could actually do about this. My parents used to live in a rented house. Hence, therefore, an “extra” house was being owned by a Libyan. An old Palestinian man would very fiercely harass my parents to “get out” so he could move in. Either he would turn up to the house or harass them on the phone. One day on his way to work my father said to my mother “Take care of it!” Later on when the Palestinian called and started misbehaving, my mother’s response was “This isn’t our home we have rented it, we have told you many times before we are not moving out of here. Leave us the hell alone!” The old man was taken aback and wasn’t expecting such a response, his tone immediately changed and he said “I’m sorry Madame please don’t be upset, you see my family is scattered everywhere in different places if I get a place to live we all can be together.” My mother’s response was “I’m sorry but there is nothing we can do, like we have told you before we have rented this house legally, I suggest you talk to someone else.” His response “Okay Madame, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to upset you.” Later on in 1995, Gaddafi has expelled some 30,000 Palestinians living in Libya. This was in response to the peace negotiations between the PLO and Israel.
The recollections of Libya and its people are done with fondness. Even though Libyans in general were noted to be a little lazy when it came to the workforce, they were known as very warm, loving, welcoming people and the importance of family meant a great deal to them.
After my parents left Libya and my father was transferred to Kuwait for a couple months and then his got transferred to Cairo, Egypt for some time. They bid the dessert winds of Libya adieu as the turbulent waters of the Nile beckoned them.