In a country divided, the Libyan Red Crescent has stayed
whole and remained independent. But the road ahead will not
Did anyone in the Libyan Red Crescent see this
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
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
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
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
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.
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 www.alertnet.org
“I think the
will have some
role to play in
terms of spreading
the culture of
will be quite a
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 www.alertnet.org