November 30, 2004

A Photo Tour of Libya

Like I said in my last post, you'll have to wait for my LA Weekly story before you can read about my experience in Libya. But here's a visual tour. Enjoy. There aren't many pictures of Libya in the world, at least not compared to the number of pictures of other places. I'm happy to contribute a few more.

Tripoli_from_the_Air.jpg

Tripoli from the air.


Tripoli_Hotel_Urban_Wasteland.jpg

We were stuck in this hotel amid an urban wasteland. Can you guess what that object is in the foreground? I’ve no idea. It could be the world's ugliest fountain, but I saw no pipes.


Tripoli_Me_Hotel_Lobby.jpg

Me in the hotel lobby. That’s everyone’s pal there on the wall. The people love him so much they put up his portait everywhere. They just can’t help themselves. He is the sun of Africa. At least that’s what he says.


Tripoli_Agoraphobia.jpg

I got agorophobia walking around Tripoli’s vast empty spaces.


Tripoli_Defunct_Regime_Compound.jpg

Here is one of the regime’s many defunct compounds strewn around Tripoli like so much junk.


Tripoli_Empty_Street.jpg

Tripoli is a safe city, but the sound of machine-gun fire in the background wouldn’t have seemed out of place.


Tripoli_Ghaddafi_Apartment.jpg

How would you like to live in this apartment building? Ghaddafi can’t even leave people alone when they’re at home.


Tripoli_Ghaddafi_Poster.jpg

The bastard is everywhere.


Tripoli_Harsh_Neighborhood.jpg

Can you see now why I said spending two days in Paris on the way home was a sight for sore eyes? Tripoli is awful. There are no soft edges.


Tripoli_Modern_Squalor.jpg

Tripoli was in the orbit of the Soviet Union, and it sure looks the part.


Tripoli_Waterfront.jpg

This is how Ghaddafi "decorated" his waterfront. Tripoli doesn’t feel at all like a Mediterranean city. It is totally walled off from its neighbors and its environment.


Tripoli_Tiny_Mosque.jpg

Here is the smallest mosque I’ve ever seen. It surely provides a nice little respite from the urban hell that surrounds it.


Tripoli_Green_Square.jpg

Green Square is famous, but it shouldn’t be. This is no Italian piazza we’re talking about. It’s a parking lot ringed by a six-lane urban speedway.


Tripoli_Italian_Quarter.jpg

The Italian quarter of the city, built by Mussolini in Italy’s fascist-imperialist days.


Tripoli_Old_City_Skyline.jpg

The skyline of Tripoli’s old city, the only interesting place in the capital.


Tripoli_Old_City_Charming.jpg

Some streets of the old city, while somewhat decrepit, still have their charms.


Tripoli_Old_City_Crone.jpg

An old woman walks the streets of the old city. Women were a rare sight, even in Libya’s largest metropolis. More than 99 percent of the people I saw were men.


Tripoli_Old_City_Havana.jpg

Tripoli’s old city made me think of Havana, not the details but the decay.


Tripoli_Old_City_Squalor.jpg

The old cities in Tunisia are exotic, but the old city of Tripoli is a little too slummy to have that cool Eastern vibe. It’s too run-down and sullen.


Tripoli_Modern_Hotel.jpg

There aren’t many nice modern buildings in Tripoli, but there are a handful. This one is a brand-new hotel that charges 250 dollars a night. I hope the hot water works. It didn’t in my hotel.


Tripoli_Modern_Mosque.jpg

The mosques are always nice to look at. They’re almost the only nice buildings in the entire country.


Sahara_Plain.jpg

Much of the Sahara is a vast arid plain.


Sahara_Mountain.jpg

A range of mountains crosses East to West just south of Tripoli.


Sahara_Old_House.jpg

An old house (I think) on the side of the road in the desert.


Sahara_al_Fatah_Forever.jpg

You can’t even drive in the countryside without running into the regime’s propaganda. Etched into the side of the mountain is “Al Fatah Forever.”


Sahara_Roadside_Propaganda.jpg

More of Ghaddafi’s bullshit hassles drivers on the way up to the city of Nalut.


Nalut_Old_Mosque.jpg

An ancient mosque in the old city of Nalut.


Nalut_Ksar.jpg

Human honeycomb. You might recognize this Berber architecture. You’ve seen it in the Star Wars movies. George Lucas used similar sites in next-door Tunisia as film sets.


Sahara_Driving.jpg

Driving in the desert toward the city of Ghadames, the fabled “jewel of the Sahara.”


Ghadames_Old_City_Cemetary_and_Sahara.jpg

A cemetary at the edge of Ghadames, and the vast empty Sahara beyond.


Ghadames_New_City_Mosque.jpg

Enormous minarets rise above the new city of Ghadames.


Ghamames_Old_City_Entering.jpg

Here is the entrance to the old city of Ghadames. It is beautiful and intoxicating, but people are forbidden to live there. Ghaddafi evacuated the city at gunpoint and forced everyone into modern concrete block housing.


Ghadames_Old_City_Passageway.jpg

The city isn’t underground. It was built with a roof on it to keep the summer heat out and the winter warmth in.


Ghadames_Old_City_Skylight.jpg

The city is lit by skylights. Some passages are pitch black even at midday. The inhabitants memorized the walls.


Ghadames_Old_City_Door.jpg

If Libya were a normal country and Ghadames were a normal city this place would be packed with hotels, coffeeshops, restaurants, internet cafes, and desert adventure tour offices. But Libya is not a normal country and the old city of Ghadames is an unwilling ghost town. At least I was free to walk around in it.


Ghadames_Old_City_Open_Air.jpg

Not all of the city is “underground.” Paths connect the houses and main streets to outdoor gardens.


Ghadames_Old_City_Traditional_Decoration.jpg

It isn’t quite right to call this decorative style “Berber.” It is unique to the city of Ghadames.


Ghadames_Inside_Traditional_House.jpg

This is what the inside of a traditional Ghadames house looks like. A family still owns and keeps up this house as a showpiece, but they are no longer allowed to live in it. Imagine being forced out of your own house by the state and shepherded into a concrete compound.


Ghadames_Cafe.jpg

Somehow Ghaddafi was persuaded to allow one single café to set up shop in the old city .This is what Ghadames would look like if it were allowed to live, if the indigenous Berber culture were not being erased by the regime.


Sahara_Empty.jpg

I walked to the edge of the city to snap this picture. Imagine setting off for someplace else in the old days before roads and cars were invented. Then imagine doing it in August when the Sahara is the hottest place on the Earth. (It is quite nice in November, a comfy 70 degrees Fahrenheit.)


Sahara_Algerian_Border.jpg

That line of trees is the Algerian border. The mountain of sand is inside Algeria. You can walk into Algeria from Ghadames, but no one I talked to had ever been there. It still isn’t safe. Just a week before I arrived some German tourists were found dead right across the border, presumably killed by Salafis.


Sahara_Big_Dune.jpg

The biggest dunes I saw in Tunisia were six feet tall. The dunes in Libya rise more than 300 feet.


Sahara_Dune_in_Sunlight.jpg

I climbed to the top of the dunes to watch the sun set. It took a long time.


Sahara_Silver_Dune.jpg

The dunes turn silver at twilight. Look to the horizon, past the wide distant mesas. You see what looks like a mountain range? That’s the Grand Erg Oriental, an enormous sea of sand that stretches hundreds of miles into Algeria and Tunisia.


Ruins_Leptis_Magna_Arch.jpg

The spectacular Roman ruins at Leptis Magna are better than anything I’ve seen in Italy. There were no tourists there - only me, Shelly, our guide, and some goats.


Ruins_Sabratha_Theater.jpg

The fabulous Roman theater at Sabratha.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:50 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Home From Libya

Well, it’s a police state. You knew that already, I know, but it’s obviously a police state when you’re walking around in it. I saw more pictures of Ghaddafi during a week than in all the rest of my life put together. The colonel says he can’t help it if his people love him so much they put up his portrait all over the country. What a card that guy is.

Some of you will appreciate the fact that Ghaddafi’s picture wasn’t the only one plastered all over Tripoli. I saw at least 100 posters of Jacques Chirac (he was in town with much fanfare for Lord only knows what kind of business) and also Comrade Hugo Chavez who came by to pick up his “human rights” prize. Chavez professed solidarity between Venezuela and Libya because, as he put it in Spanish, “our roads go in the same direction.” God help the people of Venezuela. (And Libya, too.)

I have a lot to say about the country, but you’ll have to wait a while for the whole story. The LA Weekly paid me to go, so they get the scoop. You will, of course, get a link to the piece when it is published.

In the meantime, I have to find the dealie that connects my digital camera to the computer so I can upload my pictures. I will post a photo tour and some commentary, hopefully later today. Libya has some eerily beautiful scenery, but the Soviet-style urban planning is ghastly. You’ll see.

I'd also like to publicly thank Jeremy for filling in for me while I was out. It's nice to know my blog is still kicking when I'm in a place where blogging is either reckless or impossible. Good work, bro. Thanks a bunch.

UPDATE: Here's the photo gallery.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:24 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

Michael is Back in Town

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Those footsteps you hear echoing in the hall mean that, yes indeed, Michael is in the building. He might not be posting immediately, what with the jet lag and all, but the man is back and so this is my last guest post.

I have truly enjoyed guest blogging here for the past ten days. So thanks, Michael! And thanks so much to those of you who stuck around, especially to those who commented; you all made me feel welcome and I'm grateful to you for that and for some lively conversation and debate.

Ah, but this need not be a final farewell. All you have to do is come by my own blog, Who Knew? where the party will continue...

And like the rest of you I'm eagerly awaiting Michael's news from Libya...

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 12:31 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

Two Things Dubious Yet Hopeful

Posted by Jeremy Brown

File these under things we'd like to believe but are reluctant to, though it is nevertheless a hopeful sign that the words are even being spoken (you'll have to write small to fit this on the file tab):

The first dubious yet refreshing thing:

The UN should be reformed to make intervention in failing states easier, a commission is set to recommend.

[...]

A year ago, in the wake of the international divisions over Iraq, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned the UN was at a "fork in the road".

He said the organisation had to review its fundamental policies in order to address the increasing threats of global terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation.

He asked a panel of 16 veteran diplomats and politicians, chaired by former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, to examine ways the UN should be reformed.

The route the panel is set to advocate is much more interventionist, moving away from the UN's traditional emphasis that it cannot meddle in the internal affairs of a member state.

[...]

The panel wants member states to accept a new obligation - a "responsibility to protect" their own citizens.

If they failed to do so, then intervention by the Security Council would be much more likely than under current UN procedures.

The second item, which I would like to think is more reflective of reality (via Harry's Place):

The Palestinian Authority leadership has ordered PA-controlled media to stop all incitement against Israel and Jews, the London-based Arabic daily A-Shark Al-Awsat reported Monday.

The order also pertains to video clips, songs and music videos which call for the continuation of the armed intifada, the paper reported.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 12:05 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

November 29, 2004

A Laudable Use of Scare Quotes

Posted by Jeremy Brown

It's good to see this self-effacing tactic -- in which a headline declares something while gently shaking its head lest you allow yourself to believe it -- being used defensibly. Tell me what you think, but for me the truth of this story is well served, for a change, by the scare quotes in the CNN headline:

Iran confirms 'final' uranium deal

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Avoiding a date with the U.N. Security Council, Iran has reached an agreement with three European powers to fully suspend its uranium enrichment activities, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiatior said.

"We have reached a final agreement with the three European powers," Hussein Moussavian told Iranian state-run television, referring to the 11th-hour understanding with Britain, France and Germany in Vienna on Sunday evening.

The deal enables Iran to avoid possible U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program.

But this time it's double secret extra final. Sounds good to me.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 9:18 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

November 28, 2004

Bush’s South America Security Detail

Posted by Jeremy Brown

There is a report today that would seem to vindicate the unapologetic emphasis on keeping presidential security in the hands of the Secret Service during Bush's trip to South America (despite some friction and accusations of arrogance). In Colombia for instance:

Security was extraordinarily heavy in Cartagena as Mr. Bush arrived, prompting one prominent Colombian columnist to remark on what he called American paranoia. Military helicopters bristling with armaments flew over the old walled city, which is nearly 500 years old. The bay was used only by naval and other military boats, including rubber crafts used by American commandos. Mr. Bush used an armored S.U.V., instead of a limousine.

...which seems pretty over the top, considered outside of the contextual framework of this:

BOGOTÁ, Colombia, Nov. 27 - Marxist rebels had planned to assassinate President Bush last Monday during his four-hour stopover in Colombia to meet President Álvaro Uribe, Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe said Saturday, without offering details or proof.

"According to informants and various sources, we had information indicating that various members of FARC had been instructed by their leaders to make an attempt against President Bush," the minister told reporters, referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group by its Spanish acronym.

The White House and the Secret Service declined to comment. Jonathan Cherry, a Secret Service spokesman, said, "We do not discuss any alleged threats to our protectees."

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Via Alan E. Brain I have come to appreciate the work of Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell, and a grand tradition in which the roots of his vision can be seen.

Here's a cartoon by Steve Bell on the liberation of Iraq, that seems to owe something to this great precedent on the liberation of France.

Alan Brain shows a different example. Here's Bell and here is some Nazi propoganda. Have fun.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 8:14 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

Out of Libya

I made it. I'm out of Libya and have moved on to a much more dangerous country - France. Think I'm kidding? It's statisically possible I'll be mugged here. And I spent much of the day looking at paintings and artifacts inside France's largest terrorist target. Say what you will about Libya - it isn't dangerous as long as you keep your mouth shut and only engage in note-taking behavior behind closed hotel room doors.

I'm in France because of a booking error. So I'm "stranded" in Paris for two days. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. Hell no. I just spent a week in a physically and culturally arid totalitarian police state. Boy, is this place a sight for sore eyes. I can't tell you what a soothing balm the St-Germain des Pres neighborhood is after wandering around a spiritually pulverizing Soviet-syle metropolis imposed on the good people of Libya by North Africa's Caligula. Yeesh, what a place Tripoli is. No hopping resort town, that. You'll "love" my photos when I can post 'em.

I'll be home shortly. Enjoy the guest-blogging in the meantime. (Thanks, Jeremy, for keeping the blog warm.) Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I didn't get any turkey, myself. I had camel instead. (Yes, really.)

Cheers.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:20 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

November 26, 2004

The Four Wars for Iraq

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I'm blogging via Web TV or I'd iclude a proper permalnk, but I would urge you to read a post today by Norm Geras titled "The Four Wars for Iraq." If I have linked to Norm more than once in my brief tenure at this blog and you want to know why, read that post.

I wish I were more able to read and conribute to comments here, but I'm looking forward to being able to do so again starting Saturday night.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 9:29 AM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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