Award-winning journalist Michael Totten returns to Libya.
The Middle East is passing through a great gate in its history. Not for decades has the region experienced so much turmoil and upheaval. Four dictators have fallen since the Arab Spring kicked off in 2010—Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Moammar Qaddafi in Libya, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may well be next.
I’ve been working in and writing about that region for almost ten years now. And I’ve published three books, about Lebanon, Iraq, and the former communist bloc. My first book, The Road to Fatima Gate, won the Washington Institute Book Prize in 2011.
I started in Libya, in 2004, when Qaddafi still ruled the country like a blood-soaked Stalinist tyrant. His total surveillance police state was the most terrifying regime I’ve ever seen. The only countries in the entire world more oppressive at the time were Turkmenistan under Turkmenbashi and North Korea under the Orwellian Kim family dynasty.
I was one of the first Americans to legally visit Libya in 2004 when the travel ban was first lifted, and I saw first-hand what it looks like when the political equivalent of a mad scientist runs a country like it’s his own private laboratory for deranged social experiments.
Qaddafi’s regime was completely demolished last year. Libyans now face the grim task of building new institutions—including the army—from scratch with little or no hands-on experience. Libya used to have far too much government, but today it does not have nearly enough. The state doesn’t yet have sovereignty over all of its territory. Militias run wild, including the terrorist organization that assassinated U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi in mid-September.
Will the country disintegrate into a failed militia state like Somalia with terrorists controlling some of the fragments? Will it lapse again into authoritarian or even totalitarian rule, the only kind of government it has ever known? Or will it beat the odds and cohere into something that looks like democracy?
Nobody knows, but I’m going over there to take a look and report on what’s happening now. My first-person narrative dispatches from Middle Eastern countries at war and in the throes of revolution garnered me three blogging awards and a book prize, but I still work as a freelancer. I don’t have a salary, let alone a travel expense account.
That’s where you come in. Fund my next trip—to Libya near the end of this year—so I can produce a brand-new batch of first-person narrative dispatches. You can follow along as I publish them on my blog. And at the end of the project, I’ll publish all my material as a dispatch pack—including full-color photographs—that you can read on your iPad, your Kindle, or any other tablet or reading device. And if you don’t have a tablet or reading device, you can just read them on your computer. Generous donors will receive public thank-yous from me, on my blog and in the dispatch pack when it’s published.
I’m not asking you for donations. I’m asking you to participate and will give you something back in return. Let’s go to Libya.
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Visiting an unstable country like post-revolutionary Libya can be a bit dangerous, and if the security situation disintegrates between now and the time I expect to leave I may have to delay the trip a bit, which would delay the project and, hence, the delivery of your rewards. I don't expect this will actually be a problem--I've been to Iraq seven times during the war and am accustomed to working in sketchy environments--but you never know.
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