With prayers and a band playing the national anthem the Libyan election commission opened the media center for the July 7 polls. It is being housed in the Tripoli International Convention Center right in the compound of Gaddafi’s favorite hotel in the capital, the luxurious Rixos hotel.
It seems an odd place to have a media center for the first free elections in almost half-a-century. The hotel, close to Muammar Gaddafi’s compound of Bab al-Aziziya, is very much associated for ordinary Libyans with the Gaddafi family. It was here that Saif al-Islam, the despot’s son, gave his more rip-roaring threatening performances during the rebellion.
The Rixos was also where the regime insisted foreign journalists stay and it was here that 30 of them were trapped during the uprising. They were basically locked in and many of them feared they would be used as human shields when the rebels launched their assault on the capital. The reporters and cameramen were prevented from leaving by Gaddafi goons.
So the association for many people is not a happy one. But apparently the commission has decided to ignore that dark past and go in for a spot of re-branding with fine posters celebrating the sacrifice of mothers during the uprising. There is also a stirring poster of women of all ages with the title “Rebelling To Be Heard.”
A pity then that we didn’t hear from any women on the rostrum all evening — just men. We had the election commissioner, the Prime Minister, UN Envoy Ian Martin, etc. But no women.
For that matter there weren’t that many foreign journalists among the great and good and diplomatic corps who came. That may have something to do with the fact that international journalists have been finding it extremely difficult, in some cases impossible, to secure visas. The deputy Italian ambassador told me: “We have had a big problem. The Libyan embassy in Rome just wouldn’t give out visas. We have managed to secure a few but it is still not resolved.”
That is being echoed by journalists and officials in London, Paris, Washington DC, etc. Some things never change. The king is dead, long live the king.