On the occasion of Human Right’s Day, on December 10, 2013, the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) promoted four-days of artistic activism for human rights in Tripoli, Libya. In cooperation with local and international partners and with financial support from the European Union, OMCT convened educational, artistic workshops for children and youth, commissioned a huge graffiti mural on Al Saidi Street in Tripoli, as well as an original hip hop song, and held a conference on civil society’s fight against torture in Libya, movie screenings, and various musical concerts. On December 10, 2014, OMCT released a documentary film about these events, called “No to Torture – A Libyan Experience.” The film captures the hope and energy felt by artists and activists in Libya only a year ago.
In this continuing series of interviews, OMCT speaks with young artists, Libyan and non-Libyan, who participated in the 2013 events. In these conversations, the artists remember and discuss their experiences at the Human Rights Day events, and how circumstances have changed in their lives, Libya, and the region as a whole, since then.
N°10: Mohamed Ibrahim Abubaker
(This interview has been edited for clarity)
Hailing from a small town near Sabha in southern Libya, Mohamed Ibrahim Abubaker love for his country and writing runs through his veins. He started to write poetry at the age of 13 or 14 years old and, later on, began rapping his verses. At the time of the Libyan revolution, people in his town referred to him as “the poet of the Libyans” for describing the feelings of his fellow citizens during that troubled period. An IT graduate from Alshati University, Abubaker won a competition in 2013 called the “Enterprise award Libya” organized by the British Council. After studying English at Cambridge University, he plans to return to the school to complete his Master’s degree.
What sort of memories do you have from 2013 Human rights event in Tripoli?
It is still in my heart. It really changed my life. It changed how I think about many things. It turned me into a force for effective change in Libya. After that experience, I believe I can do anything to help people. I don’t want to stand by and do nothing and just watch what’s happening without doing my part. The event made me very hopeful as well. I saw Libyans who had potential to do good.
Meeting with the victims of torture left a lasting impression on me. I spoke with them a great deal and felt very connected to them, especially to their children. I felt I was one of them. I felt that I was feeling what they were feeling. I could have been any one of those who lost a father or brother to torture. One day, maybe I will be one of them. At any moment, in Libya, the same fate could happen to my brother or my father.
The experience was painful, but, because I was one of the organizers and coordinators, it also gave me strength to try and build a better Libya. Since then, I have tried to do as much as I can to help Libyans and to speak about the situation and torture in Libya to audiences outside the country.
During the 2013 event, you were the coordinator for educational activities. Can you explain how you worked with children especially from the Internally Displace Persons (IDP) camps and managed to involve them in the event?
I am a sociable person. My weapon is my smile and my words. If you smile a real smile, and if you speak to people in a nice and genuine way, they will trust you. The people and children who live in the IDP camps need someone to take care of them. And that’s what I did. I interacted with them as if I was one of them. In fact, my situation is not so different. I don’t have a good house or a good life.
My goal was simply to make them happy and they felt it. They enjoyed taking part in the artistic activities. They have a great deal of talent but lack the opportunities to express themselves. They are good dancers, good singers. Using their talents makes them feel good. They understood they had value and that we really cared about them. They also realized they were not alone, and that there were many people like them.
What is the meaning of December 10 for you and how have you engaged in support of human rights in your country since the 2013 event?
As I mentioned, since then, I have wanted to change many things in Libya.
I am currently involved in many volunteer activities. I try in particular to do things in southern Libya, where I’m from. I believe it is easier to change things around you in your neighborhood and then in your city. After that, I hope to change things in my region and then in all of Libya.
Among the activities I have been involved with, I worked with a group of young volunteers in an NGO called “Montada Hafez” to bring new furniture and build a small football stadium for schools in some small villages. I also worked with a group for three days to repair damage to a road between Tripoli and Sabha without any help or money from the government or any organization. The road is very bad and has many holes. Several of our friends died while driving on this road.
Last Ramadan, we organized a sports competition for theyouth at night. We managed to bring more than ten local teams to participate in
the event. Currently, I am working to organize humanitarian assistance, bringing food and medicine from Tripoli to southern Libya for displaced Libyans who have fled from fighting in other parts of the country.
I have also organized various public meetings and conferences. For instance, I worked with other individuals to convene an event about the political situation in Libya. We also organized an event about the municipal elections, where people had the opportunity to ask different candidates running for my town’s mayoral seat about their platforms.
We held reconciliation meetings and discussions between those who were pro and anti-Gaddafi. These individuals discussed many things and, in the end, agreed to forgive to one another and forget the past in order to concentrate on building a new Libya together. Each time we hold an event hundreds of people attend. This shows that people have a real dedication and energy to finding solutions to their problems.
Recently, approximately 15 people of Tawergha and Mashashia origin (two ethnic groups in Libya) arrived in our town. Some of them had been liberated from jail after disappearing for months or years. I would like to organize something like the 2013 human rights day event for them, as well as for those who fled to our area after fighting broke out in other regions.
We want to do many things but there is no support so it is not easy. But, still, I try to give people the hope that things can change.
What sort of artistic projects are you working on these days?
I am still writing. It is my way of releasing negative energy. Others use drugs or get into trouble. But I use pen and paper. Whenever I write, all the bad feelings inside of me come out, and I feel better.
I started writing poetry at a young age, but soon I realized not many people read poetry, especially the youth. So I changed my direction because I want my words to reach the young people. Because they are listening to rap, more than they are reading poetry, I decided to focus on hip-hop.
Currently, I both write and perform rap. So far, I haven’t been able to record anything, since we don’t have good music studios in southern Libya. But, I continue to write. Libya is my love. Libya is my life. Libya is my daughter. Libya is my wife. Libya is everything for me. I’m not afraid to write about the situation in Libya. If you are afraid and can’t write about something and can’t be honest with yourself, you are not a rapper. In my opinion, rappers are fighters. Rap is the truth about life, both good and bad.
Is it true you want to be involved in Libyan politics one day?
One day I will be president of Libya. I am planning for it now. Maybe in 2027? I will do my best to do many things before then, including getting my Master’s degree and PhD. I also want to read and truly understand the Qur’an. I want to be helpful to my fellow citizens. I want to work with people and organizations that can help improve the situation in Libya.
I confessed these things to the audience after I won the British Council competition. I made a speech and told them my dream was to be one of those people who are helping to rebuild Libya and that one day I would be president. Everyone stood up and clapped. I didn’t have this dream before the revolution, and I don’t know if I can succeed. But I believe anything is possible, and I’m working hard to make my goals a reality.