My return visit to Libya
Column by Courtney Finn, chairman of Grantham Civic Society
Having lived in Libya for two years as a boy I was intrigued when cruises along the North African coast taking in Libyan places of interest became possible in 2007.
My wife and I booked the cruise which started in Malta and ended in Greece. The ship first took us to Tripoli where we visited the Roman cities of Leptus Magna and Sabratha. There has been little tourism over the years and the ancient cities looked the same as I had experienced previously.
However, Gaddafi had been in power for 38 years and his portrait had been erected on huge signs in Tripoli with a second sign showing the number 38 to indicate how long he had been in power after his military coup in 1969.
There had been a thaw in international relations with Libya and so foreign tourism was being allowed under the watchful eye of the tourist police who accompanied our coaches everywhere, even coming on board the ship to make sure no alcohol was visible when the ship was in Libyan waters. When they went off at night the crew got out the wine and beer.
There was an English language newspaper in Tripoli which contained an article by the Post Office Minister who said it was about time Libya got into the 21st century with postal services throughout the country. But first, he said, we will need proper addresses with postcodes. The “road next to the third olive tree” simply would not do and it was time for change.
We found the roads and villages covered in litter; there seemed no proper waste disposal system outside of the big towns.
The Gaddaffi signs disappeared when you got to Benghazi as he had never been popular outside of Tripolitania. I bought Gaddafi’s Little Green Book which said all western democracies would fail and that his great socialist paradise was the only way.
The idea was that each community and professional group would have a committee which would report up to a regional committee then to a national one which made all the decisions.
All the security forces were run by Gaddafi and his family so Libya was a complete and brutal dictatorship with Gaddafi trying to export his methods to other countries. He supported the IRA with arms shipments and funded the Lockerbie plane crash in 1983. You may recall the uprising when he met his end in 2011.
We visited the UK military cemeteries but this time in the company of desert campaign veterans. One Czech old soldier tearfully pointed out the graves of his friends who had died at El Alamein and another man told us he had fought in the Long Range Desert group which afterwards became the SAS. The graves and cemeteries were beautifully cared for as were the German war cemeteries.
Our cruise ended in Crete seeing the Minoan ruins rediscovered by the great Welsh archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Revisiting Libya showed a country rich in natural resources which had a marvellous coast line which could become a tourist paradise if peace could be established.
Sadly this has not happened and Libya continues to be split by warring tribes and factions.