Karen Dabrowska

Tripoli Post Article

Originally published: 17th August 2013

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No Progress on Community Centre for London’s Libyans


Muftah Abdelsamad a major figure in the Libyan opposition to Gaddafi and a leading community activist is very disappointed that his campaign for a community centre in London is falling on deaf ears. He has been lobbying the Libyan embassy in London and politicians and parliamentarians in Tripoli to provide funds so the Libyans can have their own centre.

“Many people in the government and parliament keep promising that they will get a place for the community - promises, promises but that is all. We are hiring the Pakistani community centre for our functions. This is a shame,” Abdelsamad told The Tripoli Post.

He believes that the proceeds from the sale of the luxurious mansion owned by Gaddafi’s son, Seif Al Islam, should be used to finance community centres in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

The house is worth £16-20 million. The embassy is repairing it and when I asked what they are going to do with it they told me they don’t know. Four young men who were looking after the house were paid £2000 to leave. It should be sold and the money should be given to the community to set up three community centres.”

Aya Al Mazwagi a psychology graduate pointed out that before the revolution not all Libyans living in London knew each other. “Some were living in the west and others in the north. Whatever area you were in you just knew the Libyans from your area. But during the protests against the regime all the Libyans from around London would meet in one place. I got to meet Libyans from the Essex area and other areas.

“Most of the Libyans in London were exiles and their family were their friends so the community was more like a family. In Ramadan we would all come here to see each other because there were no families to go to.”

But activities in Ramadan were always held in hired venues, especially the Pakistani community centre in Willesden Green and Nadi Park Royal leisure centre in Harlesden both in northwest London.

“We need a centre to socialise, for ceremonies and weddings a place for us, for the Libyan community,” said Zuher Abdelbaki. “The Somalis, the Iraqis and other communities from the Middle East all have their own community centre. Every Ramadan Abdelbaki organises an iftar in memory of his father, a prominent opposition figure who passed away in 1990. “I invite everyone – all the staff from the embassy.”

Al Bakr Lasebae the acting leader of the Libyan community in London pointed out that the community has been organising Eid parties in rented premises for the past 30 years. “We do not have a place of our own and that is a problem and a big issue. When I talk to the people in the embassy they are very supportive but I have not seen any action yet.

“I have not seen the embassy doing much for the community. When they need something they rely on us to organise things but apart from that we do not hear from them. The celebrations on Liberation day in October 2011 were a disaster. The expected number was 1000 and four thousand came. It was hectic.”

Many community members commented that there is no contact between the embassy and the community. There is no doubt about support for the revolution but the continuing problems in Libya greatly concern the community.

“I am happy for the revolution and the change of powers and the end of the dictatorship that lasted for 42 years,” said lawyer Isham Sweisi. “But two years after the revolution things are not bright. There are problems with freedom of speech, there is a lack of a free media. We are still struggling to establish democracy in the country. I am not sure what is causing this.

“It could be the lack of experience. The country has a political system but it is struggling to maintain its power on the ground. We don’t have an army or a strong legal system. We have some militias that should not be there when there is an elected government. People are worried. They feel the lack of security. Things are declining from bad to worse.

“We need the West to train the Libyan military forces. I heard some embassies have fled from the country. It shows that things are not going well. This will affect the economy as investors will not come to invest in Libya.

“The country has stopped in one place for three years - it has to move on. We need a strong party, a strong leader who is elected by the people and can control the country and help the people who have suffered for 42 years.”

Aya Al Mazwagi said that six months after the death of Gaddafi she was optimistic. “But when you see the violence still continuing it is hard for people to feel optimistic. I think there is a sense that the worse has to happen before it can get better because there are still a lot of underlying issues that were not resolved during the revolution. Tribalism is a major problem.

“Libyans have not learned to mix. They are still very stuck to their own tribe. If a problem happens between two tribes even if your tribe is in the wrong you will stick to your tribe no matter what.

“The main problem in Libya is that people do not look at what is best for the country as a whole.

“If their family or their tribe is going to benefit they will do what is wrong. They have to realise that this is not going to move the country forward. I think they will learn from experience,” she told The Tripoli Post.