It's appropriate that I will mark my 30th birthday in Cairo. The last time I was in Egypt I was a Twitter-obsessed self-proclaimed revolutionary with intellectual crushes on all the other self-proclaimed revolutionaries tweeting the horrors and hilarities of toppling regimes. Now, nearly four years later, I'm heading to the city by the Nile and will undoubtedly feel closer to Libya. What bothers me most is the escalating violence and Islamic state-run militias preventing dialogue and many Libyans abroad from going back. What some analysts and avatars said was a predictable outcome for Libya knocked the wind out of me. And I fell hard.
Let's talk about the aftermath.
Three years after the Libyan people and NATO overthrew Muammar Qaddafi, Libya is being dragged apart at the seams by two governments. An Internationally recognized government in the East and a make-shift government started when insurgents from the western city of Misrata overtook Tripoli in August, naming their own prime minister. My father, after being wrongly accused by Islamists for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad, was elected to the House of Representatives now based in Tobruk in the east.
Everyone has a turning point for when they woke up from their euphoric optimism. Mine came shortly after the death of former U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the formation of Islamic groups that desecrate shrines and mosques. I became disillusioned with Libya and frightened by its worsening reality. A part of me wanted to contribute but didn't know how. A part of me was scared I'd be wrongly accused, attacked or even harmed by extremists if I spoke out or went back to Tripoli. So I took a break from the constant Libya news cycle. On American television and newspapers it was easy. Aside from a mention of Benghazi here and there, U.S. news hardly mentioned Libya. It was as if the U.S. was never involved in the war to help Libyan rebels topple Qaddafi. I refused to watch Arab TV networks or search for Libya online. I purged my Twitter and Facebook to where only a minimal amount of Libya news was visible. It felt healthy. It felt right. I felt confused. Weren't we supposed to be standing by Libya?
I thought a break from the constant Libya news cycle would do me good. But there was no cure. I still longed for Libya and would sneak quick updates here and there. Is there is no cure but to live a life constantly attached to a place that won't change?
I felt like an addict.
Withdrawal didn't heal me. The need for Libya still burns every day, sometimes more intensely than other. It must be all or nothing. Or all or everything. Or all and small doses of nothing. That's it, small doses of nothing, that mean everything. If only this and if only that, we grew up hearing the same negative outlook. We have a duty to not repeat it to each other.
Now as I eagerly approach 30, I think about children and the younger generations currently dealing with the mess the world left Libya to clean up. New Libya was supposed to be about global engagement and civil society. It wasn't supposed to be about women staying behind closed doors or men painting the town red with machine guns. It was supposed to be about a better way of life. Many Libyans feel they contributed in some way to its failure, which is emotionally jarring considering they also at one point contributed deeply to its success.
The solution to overcoming the downward spiral is being positive. Don't pass on the negativity. That's contributing to the mess Libya is in. Even if it's burning and bombed and ISIS infiltrated, there can be nothing worse than a new generation who inherits the same pessimistic outlook as the old one. Libyans of my generation who witnessed the February 17 revolution didn't live through a past to glorify. They simply heard it over and over again from family members. The next time you feel the urge to complain about Libya time yourself. After all isn't restraint something all parties can agree on?