The Tripoli uprising

Anand Gopal writes:

One night late last month, in a sweltering apartment deep in the heart of Tripoli, a group of men gathered around the television to watch the evening news. The program was carried on Libya al-Ahrar, a Doha-based news channel beaming into Libya in support of the revolution. At precisely 8:30 p.m., after the breaking of the Ramadan fast and as locals were streaming to the mosques, the message these men were waiting for came: “Truly, we have granted you a clear victory,” the newscaster said, before signing off for the night.

It was a verse from the Quran, but to the men in this room, in the tightly packed neighborhood of Souq al-Juma, it was so much more — a code that signaled that their uprising was to begin. Over the next 48 hours, the people of Tripoli pushed Libya’s six-month revolution to its staggering denouement, ensuring their country would never again be the same and reinvigorating the Arab awakening — and it all began in this neighborhood.

The men watching the television were part of a group of 62 underground revolutionaries who had been preparing for this day for weeks. Malik Jamal Abargo, a 20-something port worker, was one of them. He grabbed his Kalashnikov and rushed into the streets with his comrades. “My heart was pounding,” he says. “I thought that I might become a martyr.”

The sight of the small crowd chanting slogans against Muammar al-Qaddafi in the street prompted shouts from the mosque. Soon its speakers issued forth a thunderous chant: Allahu akbar! Out came Khalid Abu Humeida, a customs worker. “I was standing in line for vegetables when I heard it,” he says. “It had more force to me than any bomb or jet. I knew what to do.” He was joined by Salem El Burai, a restaurant owner who came rushing out with a bag of rocks. Abdul, who would not give his last name and has no job at all, emerged with a Molotov cocktail.

The crowd grew to hundreds — the first large open protests against the government in any part of Tripoli since February, when demonstrations were drowned in blood. Almost immediately, truckloads of state security forces began to arrive. They pointed their weapons at the demonstrators. “We inched forward, step by step, trying not to waver,” says Abdul.

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