When Libyan radio talk turns ugly

Libya is a bit of a blind spot on the Arab media landscape, so when a woman calls into a radio program to criticize Libyan politics, it is very big news indeed. Especially when said woman subsequently reveals her full identity online.
Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi is the 36-year-old son of Lybian president and dictator Moamar al-Qadhafi. R.R.

BEIRUT, November 13, 2008 (MENASSAT) – The anonymous female caller made her appearance on Sunday night, during the daily broadcast of the program, "Masa' al-Kheir Banghazi" (Good Evening, Benghazi), on a local Benghazi radio station. Her comments would have been unremarkable in any other country, but in Lybia, they were dynamite.

"Where were the Libyan youths when people were being hanged in the eighties?" the caller said. "Who is this Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi so that we organize demonstrations in his name?”

Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi is the 36-year-old son of Lybian president and dictator Moamar al-Qadhafi.

The day after the anonymous call, Benghazi woke up to turmoil.

A 'media coup'

The manager of the radio station, Yunis al-Mojbari, promptly banned several employees, Ahmad al-Maqsabi, Ahmad Khalife, Khaled Ali, and the program's producer, Suleiman al-Qaba'ili, from entering the radio building. Al-Mojbari also called upon the Secretary of the Journalists Association and the Secretary of the Artists Association in order to work out a new programming strategy to avoid a repeat of Saturday's night debacle.

According to the Jeel website, on the same day, the Benghazi radio station was invaded by government soldiers, backed up by members of the Revolutionary Labor Movement and the Revolutionary Committees Movement, along with some revolutionary media and other government supporters.

After this news was published, the website received a call from Massoud al-Hamidi, Head of the Journalists Syndicate, in which he denied the invasion, saying the news was erroneous and no journalists were banned from the building.

But a private source on the Jeel website described what happened as "a media coup" led by the Secretary of the Journalists Association in Benghazi, Yunis al-Mojbari, Massoud al-Hamidi and a leading "revolutionary" radio host.

A Libyan intellectual, preferring anonymity, said on the Jeel website that this might have happened "to filter what is broadcast and to control the hosts and the producers criticizing the governmental institutions, after the local station opened the telephone lines and its programs to the poor people's concerns. which might have bothered some higher ranking personalities."

The caller reveals herself

In an interview with aljazeera.net, Yunis al-Majbari said that the management found that "Good Evening, Benghazi," instead of treating matters with transparency, is increasingly hurting people's feelings, stressing that the measures taken were based on professional motives and had nothing to do with politics.

Al-Hamidi denied that the military and the revolutionary committees had invaded the station, saying that the latter continued broadcasting the program without any modifications.

Surprisingly, the anonymous caller revealed her identity on Thursday in a message to the Jeel website.

Sharifa al-Sounoussi wrote, "In the name of love, compassion and honesty, I write to you, I, Sharifa al-Sounoussi, and I assure you that this is my real name, and that I'm still alive. Maybe they wrote my death certificate as they did with others before me.

"I have written my personal information, because I know that rumors are spreading and you are talking about me as if I did horrible things. Didn't you ask for transparency and honesty? What I did is my duty, and I'll continue to do so until the last minute so that the Libya of tomorrow would be pure and blessed."

Why all the commotion?

Saif Al-Islam Al-Qadhafi does not have an official position in his father's Lybia, but he is nevertheless considered the second most powerful person in the country.

In the name of the father

He is often cited in the Western media, being the chief negotiator for the compensation deal with former colonial power Italy, and with the United States over the Lockerbie and other bombings, and the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli and Bengazi.

In August 2008, he caused a stir by announcing that he was leaving politics, calling for political reforms and denying he would succeed his father, as many have expected.

Reactions to al-Sounoussi's call and its consequences have suggested that it may have been used as a pretext for shutting down the program.

The program's host, Ahmad Khalifa, told al-jazeera.net that stopping his program "was not the result of a phone call from a citizen who honestly spoke her mind, but came in the frame of attempts to blackout the wrongful behaviors of some officials in Benghazi."

The station's technical director, Suleiman al-Qaba’ili, told al-jazeera.net that the call was an excuse to attack the station and return to the media muzzling policy of the past. He pointed to the appointment of new management through strikingly fast decisions that ignored the administrative procedures, accusing the "revolutionaries" of trying to draw a new red line for the media.

But since al-Sanoussi was able to break the wall of fear, openly criticizing Libyan politics, others have followed her path.

The Al-Manara website reported that a Libyan citizen harshly criticized politicians in a phone call this week to the live radio program "Woujhat Nazar" (Point of View).