RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)
JASON BEAUBIEN: The street protests are the most visible sign of people's pent-up rage, but even away from the demonstrators on Tobruk's central square, anti- Gadhafi sentiment is everywhere. Graffiti mocks the eccentric ruler. A local, state-run radio station has defected to the rebels, and an independent opposition newspaper - printed on just a few sheets of paper - started publishing a couple of days ago. And ordinary residents are finally feeling free enough to speak out against the regime.
ANWAR HASSAN: We are here in an area called Al Hatiya, one of oldest and poorest areas in Tobruk.
BEAUBIEN: Anwar Hassan used to live in this neighborhood, until the government bulldozed his home to put in a road. He says he was never given any compensation. The road was built elsewhere, and the site of his old home is now just a vacant lot. Hassan shakes with anger as he talks about the Gadhafi regime.
HASSAN: And they didn't do nothing, except destroy people.
BEAUBIEN: As we talk, a dust storm turns the sky orange and whips sand across Hatiya's deeply rutted dirt roads. Raw sewage runs in gullies in the streets. Just over the hill, crude oil flows each day through glistening pipes at one of the Libya's largest oil refineries, but here there's no running water. Multiple families are crammed into crumbling, cinder-block houses. In one house we visit, 16 people from three families live in a three-room building.
HASSAN: Life here is miserable. Sometimes when I walk here myself, I swear, I cry. I cry for when I see people live like this.
BEAUBIEN: But under Gadhafi, Libya's oil wealth hasn't filtered down very far into the lower layers of society. Hassan says Gadhafi has kept Libyans down by terrifying them and giving them just enough food to survive.
HASSAN: Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)
BEAUBIEN: In this neighborhood, young men, old women, even kids are eager to talk about why they support the revolution. The main theme is that they want a better life, either for themselves or their children. But people say before, they weren't allowed to criticize the system. Critics would be rounded up by the internal security department. The imam at the local mosque, Mahmoud Nasif Abdel-Hamid, says in the past, it was impossible even for a religious man to criticize the government.
MAHMOUD NASIF ABDEL: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: There is no way I could've talked about the regime before this revolution, Abdel-Hamid says. Because in each mosque, in all of Libya, the government asks before each sermon, what we will say, and had I said anything against them, I would've been taken away.
NASIF ABDEL: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Tobruk, Libya.
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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
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