Columns / Discourse / October 23, 2013

More than a park

The infamous complex of Bab-al-Azizya was once known for its immense gardens, large underground passageways connecting to the capital of Tripoli, and most important, the living quarters of the once dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi.

Known in English as the “Splendid Gate”, the complex was first built by King Idris, Libya’s ruler before Gaddafi, and then afterward housed Gaddafi and many influential members of his regime. This once overtly wealthy compound was heavily damaged during the NATO airstrikes in 2011; however, the compound is now turning into a public park. Transitioning from the home of an oppressive dictator into a public park means significantly more to the people of Libya than it might seem.

Even when the complex was first built by King Idris it was a place that boasted distinct power and wealth. For people of the Libyan country it was a visual interpretation of the vast divide between socio-economic statuses in the region. As the King, and later on Gaddafi lived in immense and refined luxury the citizens of Libya — living just two miles away — were in distressing poverty.

Families were unable to provide for their children and many were without homes, food, water or electricity. Because the complex visually symbolized the enormous class divide between the people of Libya and its corrupt leaders, the renovation of the complex into a park is a symbol of equality that is met with anticipation and ecstasy. It will be a park in an accessible area and is open to the public. No longer will the complex be a representation of the disparity between socioeconomic statuses, but instead a site for the coexistence of the Libyan people, pushing Libya toward bandaging the wounds that were made by Gaddafi’s dictatorship.

Bab-al-Azizya also represents the centralization of power, apparent as the complex is stretched throughout the southern suburbs of the capital of Tripoli. During the reign of Gaddafi and his regime, power was consolidated into the hands of one man, rather than spread into the hands of the people. Citizens of Libya were unable to participate in elections or even vocalize dissent against the government as elections did not occur during the 42 years reign of Gaddafi and dissidents were brutally suppressed. The establishment of a park where the of the power of Libya had been previously detained within the walls of the complex, dividing the rest of the citizens from any democratic rights, represents the will of the citizens of Libya.

From calling for democratic change during the revolution to frolicking and sitting next to a fountain in which all ruling, state power was once consolidated, is a very touching and beautiful moment for many Libyans.

The complex was badly damaged during the NATO air strikes over Tripoli in 2011 resulting in bullet holes and trashed areas decimating a once beautiful place. Perhaps that denotes the end of a dictatorial time period of Libya, leaving Gaddafi dead and the citizens of Libya to rebuild the country for themselves.

The damaged location represents a war-torn country, filled with economic hardships and corruption that the citizens of Libya were unable to change until the 2011 revolution. Many individuals also moved into the homes within the complex, fixing the windows and the doors, after their own homes were destroyed or taken from them by the regime.  Aum Adam Muhammad, a current resident of Bab-al-Azizya states “In the February 17 revolution people gave their blood and lives to liberate this place that we are occupying now, may God bless them. During the rule of the tyrant [Gaddafi] we did not have anything and in this revolution we do not have anything either”.  The renovation of the “Splendid Gate” requires its current residents, such as Aum Adam Muhammad, to leave their makeshift homes and start from scratch elsewhere. Although the government is looking into other housing options for such residents, Muhammad is not convinced that her government is helping her and her family for the better.

However, if completed, the renovations will epitomize the victory of the Libyan people as they transition into a vastly different lifestyle than previously known. The park will come to represent a closed chapter of dictatorship once known to Libyans as construction changes the complex into an area available for all.

Hiba Ahmed

Tags:  Aum Adam Muhammad Bab-al-Azizya Corruption Gaddagi government King Irdris libya NATO NATO strike oppression revolution Splendid Gate tripoli

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