Dr. Mahmoud Traina, an American born cardiologist of Libyan descent, visited the besieged city of Benghazi from the 23rd of February through the 5th of March. The city of Benghazi was the birthplace of the revolution against Muammar Qaddafi and the scene of the greatest violence and injury for the freedom fighters.
It was in Benghazi that the freedom fighters are trying to coordinate the efforts of the war. A number of former Qaddafi supporters, including members of the military, joined the side of the freedom fighters. This includes membership in the Transitional National Council (TNC), the council of the freedom fighters. Dr. Traina met one of the Libyan freedom fighters, Omar Al-Harari, a member of the TNC though not the head.
Dr. Traina reports that the spirit in Benghazi was euphoric for the people. Despite attacks and deprivation the people were joyous and optimistic in their efforts to secure the freedom that so much of the world takes for granted.
One person told him, â€œYou canâ€™t imagine the feeling of now being free after 42 years. Now that we have tasted freedom, we will never go back, no matter the priceâ€.
Dr. Traina had received word earlier in the day from his sister that she and her family escaped from Misrata and were currently in England. Other family members and friends were still in harmâ€™s way putting a cloud over this good news.
The living conditions in Benghazi are horrendous. There is no electricity, no water, and no sanitation. There are no infant supplies. Only the most basic medicines are available. A Cholera epidemic is a very real possibility. The hospitals are so crowded that they have had to dislodge half of their patient load to be cared from outdoors under tents. Injuries to limbs, normally treatable by orthopedic surgery, have often resulted, due to these primitive conditions, in amputations. There are no functional Intensive Care Units to treat for the critically ill and/or post surgical patients.
The lines for bread involve a three hour wait.
Dr. Traina spoke of the conditions he witnessed. â€œIn Benghazi, people were beginning the process of self-rule and organization. Volunteers manned the traffic signals, and organized traffic. Others helped to feed the people with donated food in improvised â€œsoup kitchensâ€. Other groups were going around cleaning up the debris in the city left from the violence. Medical staff was working overtime to care for the ill, especially the nursing staff who remained. (A large number of the nursing staff were foreign workers, and many of them left the country, but many stayed, and said they couldnâ€™t abandon the patients who needed them)â€.
Dr. Traina said that Qaddafi, after 42 years of despotic rule, believes that Libya belongs to him as one would own a personal possession. Qaddafi has said that if necessary to keep his power he will kill every Libyan and restock the country. He has used mercenaries from Chad, Mali and Niger. This became obvious when some of the mercenaries became hospitalized, and the personnel in attendance realized these patients spoke no Arabic.
In addition, Dr. Traina believes that there are pro-Qaddafi cells in Benghazi ready to spring into action when called upon.
When asked about opinion in the street about the United States and NATO as having a role to play, Dr. Trains replied that the Libyans want to win their freedom through their own acts. It is they who must play the leading role.
The Libyan people, he continued, want freedom as Americans know freedom. They want an open and accountable government and the freedom to form political parties. Nearly 100% of Libyans are Muslim, and Islam will play a role in their government. This is comparable to the role Christianity played in the early days of the American republic. Islam and freedom are totally compatible, he said, citing the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his early followers.
Dr. Traina dismissed the idea that the revolution, when successful, could be hijacked by radical forces. The people have fought too hard for their freedom and would guard in jealously.
Some organizations, he continued, have been able to get aid in by working with United Nations agencies. Others based in Ireland and the UK have been successful in this arena because they are not subject to the same sanctions.
Dr. Traina has suggested two web sites that he both recommends and is involved with. They are: www.libyanemergencyaid.com and www.islamicreliefusa.org/libya .
Dr. Traina is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and on the cardiology staff at Olive View – UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.