x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Libyan consulate in Dubai stripped of Qaddafi portraits

The consulate needed a makeover before it could reopen.

DUBAI // Hundreds of Libyans showed their zeal for a homeland free of Col Muammar Qaddafi's rule at Friday night's festivities to celebrate their consulate reopening under rebel control.

In their little corner of a free Libya in Bur Dubai, Libyan expatriates from across the UAE raised the rebel flag - the green, black and red of pre-Qaddafi Libya - as large crowds cheered and chanted.

"I've had many happy moments, but this is the most special," said Nuri Salem, a 49-year-old businessman who has lived in Dubai for 20 years.

Like other attendees, he said he had never visited the consulate before, fearing government harassment.

"There is a special relationship between us and this flag. I cannot describe it," he said.

Another father took a photograph of his son next to a large flag and a sign reading: "Libya is our tribe and Tripoli is our capital."

More than 100 volunteers donated and arranged everything to make the evening possible: a tent for the men's side, a roomful of chairs for the ladies' side and heaping trays of food, including a Libya-shaped cake more than a metre long.

Consulate staff had been cleaning the consulate in the past few weeks and taken down 30 portraits of Col Muammar Qaddafi.

Inside, women offered each other platters of homemade sweets and a warm drink called khshaf.

"We were all waiting for this day," said Raga Mahmoud, a 54-year-old retired teacher.

In 16 years in the UAE, this was her first time at the consulate, she said. Now she plans to organise women's aid volunteer meetings every Thursday evening.

"For so long, this was a place of fear," said her friend Safa Awad, 33, who had driven from Abu Dhabi. "Now it's a meeting point."

* Carol Huang