Have we forgotten our Libyan friends? Or is it just about $$$? | Mona Farrugia, Saif el Islam Gaddafi, Ghaddafi
Have we forgotten our Libyan friends? Or is it just about $$$? Print
Mona Farrugia   
As the violence in Libya escalates and Benghazi falls into the hands of ‘the opposition’, whatever that may be, you could hear sighs of relief all over Malta. Rather than because of what is actually happening all over the Eastern coast of Libya, it is the fact that only this extreme situation has stopped the many men and very few women Maltese working there from boarding flight KM696 and going back to Tripoli for a week’s work, leaving their families terrified and practically incommunicado back in Malta.
Have we forgotten our Libyan friends? Or is it just about $$$? | Mona Farrugia, Saif el Islam Gaddafi, Ghaddafi

When the protests started a few weeks ago I was stunned that the coverage on a local level was so flimsy and so, in some cases, inexistent. Then the pieces started to fall into place like one of those complicated, yet still obvious, jigsaw puzzles: Libya is not just a neighbor – we are, on a political level, in thrall of this regime.

Over the past thirty years or so, Malta, with its tiny size and its dependence on anything that could give us something, has been sucking up to Colonel Ghaddafi and his less than enthralling method of governance. We sucked up to them long ago and, if I remember correctly, actually managed to get something in return, namely fuel.

Over the years, Maltese businessmen have been looking at Libya as one of our ways out of our limitations. Even back in the 80’s Libyans made up most of our local sales. They came here to buy knives, plates, towels, underwear, chewing gum in massive quantities. In more recent years, Libyan guys at the airport would spend hours taking tablets of over-the-counter medicine out of their packaging so they could save some money from the extra weight then sell it back home. The Tripoli flight was always packed and no matter how much hassle they created on the way out, nobody could actually bring themselves to stop this. It was business.

On a much larger scale, the kind that we never get to see, unlike the obviousness of something like repackaging kilos of gum, behind the scenes the business never stopped.

As time passed some of these people became our friends. Maltese people working in Tripoli and Benghazi formed bonds and relationships which went beyond just money. At University and in the work place, we had Libyan friends: we did not look at them as Libyans but as colleagues and in some cases, close friends.

Yet when these very same people found themselves and their families out on the streets protesting against a dictatorship which was less than benign, nobody in Malta really said anything. Oddly, we sympathised with the Egyptians more than we did with the Libyans. The reason? Well, we never really got over our less than explicable dislike of Libyans. We are, sad to say, as racist as anything when it comes to our neighbours and friends, ghax gharab (because they’re Arabs in Maltese).

Moreover we did not want to disrupt any apple carts. Behind the scenes, business deals are still being closed as we speak and some of them are absolutely major. Last week the rumour, well-founded, started to make the rounds that one of the potential buyers of Air Malta could, actually, be our very neighbour.

And it is not just us keeping our mouths closed. Italy’s Berlusconi, France’s Sarkozy and even Germany’s Merkel: nobody is actually saying anything of much substance in diplomatic protest. We thought that blood would have to be spilled before they did, but blood has been spilled: the Libyan government has retaliated to protests with all-out shooting and even the throwing of grenades, bringing in snipers and mercenaries from Africa.

Every single Northern African dictator has surrounded themselves with their family placed in very important positions and bureaucratic regimes which are manned by power-hungry madmen. They have amassed billions of dollars in their personal treasure trove.

I remember friends in Tunisia saying that the only internet connection available was through Ben Ali’s daughter’s business. In Tripoli, Ghaddafi’s family owns practically every single important enterprise. On a trip there once, we had to vacate an entire restaurant because one of his sons was eating in. A friend had filled out my ‘pink card’ in my passport and listed my occupation as ‘journalist’: it was enough to be almost arrested at the airport – we spent our whole trip there trying to convince the powers that be to give me my passport back. Imagine having to live like that, always.

Nobody really knows where Mubarak’s millions are but the poverty in Cairo is so palpable that while filming an easy-going and totally unpolitical travelogue there, we were constantly stopped from filming, in one case completely surrounded by Tourist Police bearing machine guns. In this city, a huge cemetery became a huge town.

What can we do in the meantime? Libya has closed off all communication with the outside world but when that was attempted in Egypt, the Egyptians and their European friends still found ways of getting the message across. The human spirit is indomitable. Meanwhile, Morocco is also seeing uprisings and in Bahrain, people have been shot openly on perfectly tarmacked roads.

Keep the communication going. Join Twitter as this is one of the best and fastest means of getting to know what is happening. Don’t forget our humanity: regardless of what our ass-licking, money-begging politicians are doing, we could always do better, in our small but very humane way.

Have we forgotten our Libyan friends? Or is it just about $$$? | Mona Farrugia, Saif el Islam Gaddafi, Ghaddafi
Saif el Islam Gaddafi
Follow Al Jazeera's brilliant live blog by clicking here: http://blogs.aljazeera.net/middle-east/2011/02/17/live-blog-libya#
Also this article about hacktivists: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/02/201121321487750509.html

Mona Farrugia

'Mona Farrugia is a food and travel writer from Malta. She is a published author of the bestselling Mona's Meals: The Foodbook with Malta's foremost cardiac surgeon, Alex Manche' and a Member of the Guild of Food Writers UK. She has been writing opinion, restaurant criticism and world travel since 1998. Mona Farrugia is Editor-in-Chief of opinion and travel website http://www.planetmona.com .'