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From revolution to reconciliation

In a country divided, the Libyan Red Crescent has stayed whole and remained independent. But the road ahead will not be easy.

Did anyone in the Libyan Red Crescent see this uprising coming?
No one in January 2011 thought that in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt there would be such dramatic changes — not in our wildest dreams. However, we did our best, through our volunteers, to cope and respond. The volunteers were really ready and did an excellent job.

This is particularly true in terms of first aid and evacuation. We had mobilized our volunteers to go to the hospitals, where services had essentially collapsed. In Benghazi, there are very modern hospitals but many were operated by foreigners who left, fearing for their safety. It was a state of near chaos because the system had essentially failed.

How did the National Society react?
We set up a task force at headquarters. But during the second week, all communications were cut off. There was no internet, no cell phones. The lesson that we learned in such a situation is that we needed to have a system in place for better volunteer management. We had been dealing with volunteers in very traditional way. Now we realize that we need to go with a proper volunteer management system — better training on the code of conduct and providing insurance, protection and security.

Overall, the volunteers did a great job sticking to the principles of impartiality and neutrality. But the revolution was a revolution of youth. We tried to give them as much guidance as we could, telling them that “you need to separate your function as volunteer and wearing a Red Crescent uniform from your self as a young person excited about this change”.

What were the main dangers faced by volunteers?
We had many volunteers who were injured on the front line and who risked their lives and were shot at indiscriminately while driving ambulances.

And of course, we also had several volunteers who lost their lives during this conflict. One of our volunteers was killed while driving an ambulance that was hit by a missile. Another was a volunteer who was in a car accident. Another two volunteers from our Tripoli branch were killed in an area east of the capital known as Zliten. The information we have is that they were in the front line helping with evacuation.

What do you see as the major challenges the volunteers face now?
We need to support and rehabilitate our volunteers, who have been doing such a hard job for a long time. They were students or doctors or professionals before the conflict and now they need to be offered psychological support and redirected back into regular life.

Number two is addressing the divide in the National Society between those who on a personal level were pro-revolution and those who were pro-regime. So now, in the future, we need a kind of a national reconciliation.

How do you keep the unity of a National Society during civil conflict?
We did in fact keep the unity of the National Society in a very difficult situation. Now, it’s less difficult, it’s a matter of just bringing people together and discussing.

One of the things we face are volunteers who could come and say, “We want to change the head of our branch, he is from the past.” I think we have no option but to deal with that. But we have a system in place for changing the head of branch and that system needs to be respected.

This Arab Spring is something we cannot ignore. But so far, the example has been that the volunteers themselves have defended the integrity of the National Society from outside interference.

At one point, some volunteers were given an audience with the chairman of the National Transition Council to talk about the integrity of the National Society and the way it independently appoints or dismisses people in key posts.

The volunteers in fact said, “No, we are independent and we have a General Assembly and at that point, we can decide if we are happy with someone and we keep him, or not.”

In the post-revolution period, what are the big challenges?
With the return of fighters, one of the big challenges is to rehabilitate them to normal life. After the election, another big challenge, in addition to the economy, is national reconciliation. I think the Red Crescent will have some role to play in terms of spreading the culture of non-violence, forgiveness and reconciliation. This will be quite a challenge. It’s not impossible, but not easy.

Muftah Etwilb
Photo: ©IFRC






Several anti-Gaddafi fighters, injured amid heavy shelling in Sirte, wait to be transported in Red Crescent helicopters from Ras Lanuf to Benghazi in September. Photo:©REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori, courtesy





“I think the
Red Crescent
will have some
role to play in
terms of spreading
the culture of
forgiveness and
reconciliation. This
will be quite a
challenge. It’s
not impossible,
but not easy.”





A Libyan Red Crescent convoy brings medical aid and supplies for those displaced from the fighting in Sirte, eastern Libya, in October. Photo: ©REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori, courtesy


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