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Art Moves Africa – Retracing Roots and Tracing New Routes: Mobility and Touring in North Africa

A study by Lara Bourdin for Art Moves Africa, October 2019

A study by Lara Bourdin for Art Moves Africa, October 2019

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63<br />

Country-Specific Information<br />

—<br />

GENERAL INFORMATION<br />

—<br />

Libya is the fourth-largest country <strong>in</strong> <strong>Africa</strong> <strong>and</strong><br />

is among the 20 largest <strong>in</strong> the world. Spann<strong>in</strong>g<br />

1.770 km, its coastl<strong>in</strong>e is the longest of any of<br />

the Mediterranean countries. The largest city <strong>and</strong><br />

capital, Tripoli, is located <strong>in</strong> western Libya, while<br />

the second-largest city, Benghazi, is located <strong>in</strong><br />

eastern Libya. N<strong>in</strong>ety percent of Libya’s population<br />

lives along its coast.<br />

What present-day Libya is has been <strong>in</strong>habited<br />

by Amazigh tribes s<strong>in</strong>ce the late Bronze<br />

Age. Libya was occupied by the Phoenicians,<br />

Greeks, Persians, Egyptians <strong>and</strong> Romans before<br />

the Islamic conquests. In the 20th century, Libya<br />

was under Italian rule between 1911 <strong>and</strong> 1947.<br />

C<strong>in</strong>emas, theatres, libraries <strong>and</strong> cultural centres<br />

were built. The country declared its <strong>in</strong>dependence<br />

<strong>in</strong> 1951. Eight years later, the discovery of<br />

massive oil reserves transformed the until-then<br />

poor nation. In 1959, a group of rebel officers<br />

led by Muammar Gaddafi overthrew the<br />

government <strong>and</strong> established the Libyan Arab<br />

Republic, embrac<strong>in</strong>g the pr<strong>in</strong>ciples of Arab<br />

socialism. This coup-d’état was the beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g<br />

of a 42-year dictatorship, marked by<br />

bloody repression of opposition, <strong>in</strong>vasion<br />

of all aspects of private life <strong>and</strong> negation<br />

of public space.<br />

Libya entered a civil war <strong>in</strong> 2011, as<br />

protests turned <strong>in</strong>to a rebellion which was<br />

met with force by Gaddafi. A NATO offensive<br />

began <strong>in</strong> March 2011, bolster<strong>in</strong>g the rebellion.<br />

Gaddafi was killed <strong>in</strong> October 2011.<br />

S<strong>in</strong>ce 2011, Libya has been torn among<br />

rival, armed militias affiliated with dist<strong>in</strong>ct<br />

regions, cities <strong>and</strong> tribes. The power vacuum<br />

has created an open<strong>in</strong>g for tribal militias <strong>and</strong><br />

jihadist groups to make <strong>in</strong>cursions. There<br />

are currently two ma<strong>in</strong> rival governments:<br />

the Interim Government (IG), based <strong>in</strong> the<br />

East, formed <strong>in</strong> 2014; <strong>and</strong> the Government<br />

of National Accord (GNA), formed <strong>in</strong> 2016<br />

under UN-led Initiative for a Libyan Political<br />

Agreement, based <strong>in</strong> the West. Presidential<br />

<strong>and</strong> parliamentary elections have been<br />

—<br />

L<br />

I<br />

B<br />

Y<br />

A<br />

—<br />

—<br />

QUOTE:<br />

« There are a couple old<br />

c<strong>in</strong>emas that were built<br />

by the Italians <strong>in</strong> the days of<br />

the Libyan k<strong>in</strong>gdom but none<br />

of them are work<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

We have 6 <strong>–</strong> 7 but none are<br />

work<strong>in</strong>g. I found out that<br />

they’re destroy<strong>in</strong>g them. I<br />

felt ashamed <strong>and</strong> sorry. There<br />

is a c<strong>in</strong>ema that’s one of the<br />

most amaz<strong>in</strong>g build<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>in</strong><br />

Libya, but it was burned down<br />

by the revolutionaries. Why?<br />

Gaddafi was us<strong>in</strong>g it<br />

for his th<strong>in</strong>gs »<br />

Abdul Mohaimen Zarrough,<br />

photographer <strong>and</strong><br />

cultural manager,<br />

Tripoli<br />

—<br />

planned s<strong>in</strong>ce 2018, but have yet to be held. At<br />

the time of writ<strong>in</strong>g, the Libyan National Army, led<br />

by former Gaddafi general Khalifa Haftar, was<br />

lead<strong>in</strong>g a major offensive on the GNA-controlled<br />

city of Tripoli. Tens of thous<strong>and</strong>s of people have<br />

been displaced <strong>and</strong> hundreds killed, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g a<br />

significant number of <strong>Africa</strong>n refugees.<br />

The relationship between modern Libya<br />

<strong>and</strong> <strong>Africa</strong> is difficult to dissociate from Gaddafiera<br />

politics <strong>and</strong> the migration crisis, as Libya has<br />

become an important passageway. Historically,<br />

nomadic Tuareg <strong>and</strong> Tabu communities l<strong>in</strong>k the<br />

South of Libya <strong>and</strong> areas to the South. Gaddafi<br />

is known (<strong>and</strong> sometimes even romanticized)<br />

as a prom<strong>in</strong>ent pan-<strong>Africa</strong>nist. He was one of<br />

the found<strong>in</strong>g fathers of the <strong>Africa</strong>n Union <strong>and</strong><br />

supported a number of liberation movements,<br />

<strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g the <strong>Africa</strong>n National Congress <strong>in</strong> South<br />

<strong>Africa</strong>. However, he also funded rebel groups <strong>in</strong><br />

Sierra Leone <strong>and</strong> Liberia <strong>and</strong> plotted to <strong>in</strong>vade<br />

Chad <strong>in</strong> 1980. Much of his pro-<strong>Africa</strong>n policy<br />

centered on personal self-aggr<strong>and</strong>izement as an<br />

Arab k<strong>in</strong>g of <strong>Africa</strong>. Some commentators have<br />

suggested that anti-Gaddafi backlash may<br />

be fuell<strong>in</strong>g anti-<strong>Africa</strong>n sentiment <strong>in</strong> Libya<br />

(see Racism below).<br />

—<br />

ARTS AND CULTURE SECTOR<br />

—<br />

Libya’s present-day arts <strong>and</strong> culture sector<br />

has been shaped by the authoritarianism,<br />

censorship, <strong>and</strong> nationalism that prevailed<br />

under Gaddafi <strong>and</strong> the profound turmoil that<br />

has reigned s<strong>in</strong>ce 2011.<br />

The 1973 Cultural Revolution <strong>in</strong>stituted<br />

a climate of <strong>in</strong>tense repression on<br />

the arts <strong>and</strong> culture, result<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> the arrest<br />

<strong>and</strong> prosecution of large numbers of cultural<br />

actors, the murder of opposition figures, the<br />

bann<strong>in</strong>g of foreign language books <strong>and</strong> musical<br />

<strong>in</strong>struments, the destruction of <strong>in</strong>frastructures<br />

left by Italian colonization <strong>and</strong> the crim<strong>in</strong>alization<br />

of languages other than Arabic.<br />

In one of his speeches, Gaddafi stated that<br />

“artists are free but their freedom will end

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