In Libyan Town Of Zawiya, Divisions Run Deep

Apr 6, 2011

As fighting rages around the Libyan oil port of Brega, it's becoming increasingly clear that a military stalemate has developed between the eastern and western parts of the country. Some observers are beginning to predict that Libya could eventually be partitioned.

But in the western city of Zawiya, those aren't the only ruptures the country is facing as Moammar Gadhafi clings to power.

'Everything Is OK'

During the first weeks of the uprising, Zawiya was one of the most contested cities. Now, the rebellion here has been crushed, and green pro-Gadhafi banners are everywhere. But while there is a surface calm, the divisions here run deep and strong, a sign of what is happening in the rest of Libya.

At the hospital in Zawiya, the government presents journalists with the administrator, Dr. Salah Ibrahim. "Everything is OK," he says.

Ibrahim later acknowledges that he's been in his post for only one month and doesn't know how many people were killed during the rebellion here; nor can he say what happened to the wounded rebels.

The former director of the hospital, Dr. Ramadan Salem, was demoted. He simply refuses to answer reporters' questions about what happened to the rebels in Zawiya. Although he was the hospital's director during the fighting, he says he also has no idea what took place during that period.

"I was the manager," he says. "I don't deal with the patients." When asked whether the hospital had wounded children, he says, "I don't know about these things."

Later, a doctor whispers what has really happened here, as a staged pro-Gadhafi rally goes on outside his window.

Most of the hospital staff was replaced after Gadhafi's loyalists took control of Zawiya, he says. Five of his colleagues are still in prison. Everyone is acting, he says — it's all a pretense.

'I Will Die For Him'

As Gadhafi reasserts control, anger has deepened and positions have become entrenched — which bodes ill for the future.

There are true Gadhafi loyalists, who believe he is good for the country and that the rebels are evil saboteurs. Sumaya, a 30-year-old doctor, says she came back from abroad as soon as the bombing campaign began.

"I came from France to support [Gadhafi]," she says. "I will die for him. I swear to God I will die for him."

Sumaya says she was able to study outside Libya because of the scholarship she received from the government.

"We had a good education from him," she says. "Before Gadhafi, huts — we [were] living in huts. And the foreigner, they have a villa and they have a flat, and eating our food, taking our petrol."

Jason Pack, who researches Libya at Oxford University, says he thinks 30 percent of western Libya will always be pro-Gadhafi, "either for tribal reasons or because they've benefited from the current system economically."

"They have state jobs, they fear change, they were part of the revolutionary committee movement," he says.

That leaves the rest of the population, who are either against Gadhafi or conflicted.

Back in Zawiya, at the central square, the graves of rebels who were buried in the park have been dug up and the bodies taken away.

There are other things missing, too. The mosque had been used by the rebels as a makeshift hospital during the fighting. The government says it was desecrated.

The land where the mosque once stood is now an empty lot, razed to the ground as the Gadhafi government tries to erase Libya's recent history, stone by stone. The scars, though, are indelible. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit