Impatient With Change, Libyans Begin To Leave

With Libya between chaos and the emergence of a new state, many Libyans are fleeing to other countries. An executive and a revolutionary activist in Tripoli explain their fears and why they may leave.

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Three years ago, Libyans began a revolution that toppled the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Today, their country still teeters between chaos and the emergence of a new state. Crime, violence and power outages are part of daily life in Libya. But many Libyans had had enough. And those with the money and contacts are getting out.

NPR's Leila Fadel talks to a businessman, a musician, and an activist about whether to stay or go.

NASER RAYES: (Foreign language spoken)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Libyan businessman Naser Rayes has a trendy apartment on a quiet street in this upscale neighborhood of Tripoli. He's exactly the kind of person Libya needs to help it rebuild: educated and a tech entrepreneur.

RAYES: Actually, before Gadhafi left, I was thinking about going to Canada because I want my children to get a good education. And the education here is terrible. But then after Gadhafi left, I said no, Libya is going to become a better country. And so I decided against it.

FADEL: He refers to life under the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. When Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011, Rayes had hope that his children, unlike him, could be educated and live freely in Libya. So he suffered through the chaos and the unpredictability for a year and then two. But progress is moving at a glacial pace and now, he says, he can't wait for things to get better anymore.

RAYES: And then I finally made the decision to go, but instead of Canada, I decided to go to Cyprus.

FADEL: He moved his three daughters and two sons to Cyprus with his wife and he commutes back and forth while he continues to run his IT services company. He says things are worse now, worse even than Gadhafi's time.

RAYES: At least then this was secure. But now, there's no security.

FADEL: Three of his relatives have been kidnapped, some for ransom. Two were released and a third, a doctor, is still missing. He was kidnapped just two blocks away and Rayes doesn't know why.

RAYES: Lots of people could afford to are moving out. If you have no money, unfortunately, you're stuck.

FADEL: But with the best and brightest looking for a way out, it leaves a fractured and foundering Libya in a precarious position. Who is left behind to prompt change innovation and a new, better state? There are no hard numbers on those leaving, but the evidence is in every conversation in the capital. At a recent sit-in, young men complained that they can't get visas to get out of the country.

The main concern is security, but other worries plague them, too. How do they find work? How do they get competitive education? The country can't even keep the lights on as militias hold oil hostage from the state. The morning headlines are frightening. A woman murdered, a bombing, an abduction. We meet Majeddin Shaladi(ph) at a Tripoli cafe. He wears a rock 'n' roll T-shirt, dark shades and a hipster beanie.

MAJEDDIN SHALADI: I don't see myself having the future that I want here, you know. I have dreams and visions and goals that I want to get to. That's how human beings actually should live.

FADEL: He's a guitarist who loves Van Halen and Black Sabbath, but the 21-year-old is so disillusioned by Libya's problems that he hasn't touched his guitar in months.

SHALADI: Well, the life knocking me down every day, like it takes me all the strength I have and I just stand up.

FADEL: He feels like Libya isn't safe for free expression. Now, he plans to move to Canada where his sister lives. And he's not alone.

SHALADI: Almost everyone wants to leave. Everyone, you know, I know very much wants to leave.

FADEL: But some people are holding on, even with the means to run. Huda Abuzeid(ph) is a British Libyan. Her father was stabbed to death in 1995 in his London grocery store, presumably by Gadhafi hit men. But in 2011, she returned to volunteer her help during Libya's revolution. She also volunteered briefly with the post-revolutionary government. But now her friends are leaving and she's thought about going, too.

HUDA ABUZEID: It's easy for people like myself who have another passport to leave, but it feels like that's a sort of betrayal really to the original - I'm going to cry - the original, you know, purpose of what these people did.

FADEL: She refers to the days when so many Libyans were united in their fight against Gadhafi so she stays. She voted last week for the body that will ultimately write Libya's constitution, something they all fought for in the revolution.

ABUZEID: Like the only thing that makes that sacrifice mean something is if we build something.

FADEL: She hopes that staying will make the difference. Leila Fadel, NPR News.

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