Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 January 2020

Life goes on for Libyans despite war on their doorstep

With the offensive raging around the capital, in the city things look relatively normal

Libyans children gather on the beach near the main port of Tripoli. AFP
Libyans children gather on the beach near the main port of Tripoli. AFP

Despite the war on Tripoli's doorstep, residents are filling the salons and cafes in some quarters of the Libyan capital as they carry on as best they can.

"Life has to go on. It will end when it ends," said Samira, who runs a hair and beauty salon in Tripoli's central Ben Achour neighbourhood.

Originally from neighbouring Tunisia, Samira has been living in Libya for years and her salon is always packed with clients.

"At least three or four brides come in each week to have their hair done and get ready for their big day," she said, as she prepared a palette of eyeshadows and brushes to start making up a young bride.

"That's as well as dozens of women who come for a haircut, to get a makeover, or skincare before a big event," she added.

Tension has been high in Tripoli since military chief Filed Marshal Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on April 4, aimed at seizing the capital from the UN-backed unity government based there.

The battle for control of the capital has so far left more than 260 dead, mostly fighters, and wounded more than 1,200 others according to a toll from the World Health Organization.

Clashes have centred on the southern outskirts of the city, just 15 kilometres from the centre.

Fighting intensified with a counter-attack launched by militias that back the Government of National Accord on Saturday, when sustained rocket and shellfire could be heard in several districts and some witnesses reported air strikes.

Tripoli residents fear that the battle could escalate into a wider conflict that would devastate the North African country, already rocked by years of instability and economic hardship since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted in 2011.

But for now, the honking of car horns on the seafront is louder than the distant boom of rockets and gunfire.

Schools and businesses in Tripoli remain open when they can, while residents of the Mediterranean city try to indulge in their favourite leisure activities.

"Libya is not just about television footage showing tanks and militiamen brandishing their guns or destroyed buildings," said schoolteacher Mariam Abdallah.

"We are still having weddings, parties, school activities and sports events."

On the seafront in the west of Tripoli, outdoor cafes are packed, especially towards the end of the day when residents like to unwind after a day's work.

Many of the clients are students and young employees attracted by the offers of free wifi.

Issam, a waiter at a cafe, said coffee shops and restaurants provide a "rare" form of leisure in Libya, a country that has "no cinemas, theatres or concert halls".

So the "best places to meet [friends] and spend some good times are cafes and restaurants," he said.

Libyan men smoke water pipe at Saraia cafe in Tripoli, Libya April 22, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
Libyan men smoke water pipe at Saraia cafe in Tripoli. Reuters

The ongoing fighting has also displaced more than 30,000 people, according to the United Nations.

But the number could be much higher, as many people who fled their homes and moved in with relatives in safer areas did not register with international organisations.

"My daughter, her husband and their children came to shelter in our house because of the fighting, so the family has grown," said Faiza, as she shopped for some crockery and other supplies.

"It is always nice to have something new in the kitchen," she said cheerfully as she checked out some bowls with a flowery motif.

Faiza said she needed to prepare ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in early May.

"New things inspire me to create new dishes for the family," she added, her grandchildren running up and down the aisles of the supermarket.

"It's hard to come up with different meals to break the [Ramadan] fast every evening for a month," she said.

But not everyone was as cheerful as Faiza.

"It is too late to speak of a political solution," said a man in his fifties who owns a grocery store in the seafront district of Gargaresh.

"The situation won't be resolved until we're drowning in blood and violence."

Updated: April 23, 2019 08:11 PM