Writer and editor

A Libyan's journey to Doha

Added on by Anealla Safdar.

I've been working in the media since 2001 and with Libyan state TV since 2008. Being a news anchor at state television, I had been reporting on the developments in the region and we knew something was going to happen in Libya soon.

The channel had told the anchors not to focus on the revolutions before, but I was very vocal about Hosni Mubarak's departure and everyone knew February 17 was coming. With that in mind, I prepared myself.

With respect to the channel, when the protests in Libya started, we didn't really cover them. When people started getting killed, I refused to be a part of what they wanted us to say on air. On the last news cast I did, it was apparent I was not okay with what was going on.

I said to my family that I was fine, but everyone knew I wasn't. As soon as the revolution started, I decided I wanted to leave. I left the channel and headed back to East Libya to my family.

I was a popular anchor and people soon started wondering where I had gone. I went into hiding and left. I didn't even tell my family that I was coming home. I just told one friend in case something happened to me on the road.

That trip should have taken 12 hours, instead it took a day and a half. My family thought I was in Tripoli all that time. On the road there were countless checkpoints.

In the bus I was travelling in, there were 18 people. We all had to reassure each other and tell each other to calm down. The armed men at the checkpoints treated us quite badly and we had to bite our tongues. I feared if someone spoke out, all 18 of us would have been killed. 

The journey to Doha

Not all of the guards were bad people though, otherwise I never would have made it. At one point, one of the guards took me to the side. I became really frightened, but he had just recognised me from the television and wanted to take a photograph with me on his camera phone.

By the time we got to Misrata, I had seen the revolutionaries and the power that they had. They were small in number and had no weapons. But, it was those in the Gadaffi battalion who had fear in their eyes. On the way, some of the security who had heard about the revolutionaries were asking us, “what is it like?” — they were clearly scared. 

Along the way, we passed through Brega, where there was heavy fighting. We crossed through the line of fire and I could see dead bodies everywhere I looked. Somehow, we made it through. This was at the very beginning of the revolution, so security was still tight.

They searched everything, like our mobile phones to see if we had any photographs they would be suspicious of. The treatment from the Gadaffi people was awful at the checkpoints, but the revolutionaries didn't even search us. They would have had more of a right to, just in case we were spies.

When I finally reached home, my family was really surprised to see me. Around three weeks later, two people came knocking at my door. They told me they had a job for me in Doha, but didn’t give me any details.

They told me if I wanted to come, I should pack my bags and leave immediately. Of course, I thought it must have been Al Jazeera. I had no idea it was a new channel. I decided to go, and my two sisters and mother who I lived with encouraged me.

A driver took me from Tobruk to the Saloom crossing at the Egyptian/Libyan border. We went to Alexandria and then to Cairo and from there I flew to Doha. It was such an exhausting journey that I had become ill.

When I first got here, I came straight to work. I got to know the team and immediately they said I was going to be the first face on the channel. I knew it was a huge responsibility and I was trying to position myself to deal with that so I could represent us from the first telecast.

Libya would be watching 

In those first few moments on air, I was overcome with emotion. It was nerve-racking. I felt as if all of Libya would be watching and it was the first opportunity for me or anyone to voice something within the parameters of a free media.

It was a huge burden but I was very proud of what we were doing, and I wanted to represent Libyans to the best of my ability.

I still speak to my family from here every day and they have seen our work. They joke with me about how I look from one day to the next. When I left state television, they were in denial that I had left to come here. They even photoshopped pictures of me and placed them showing me shaking the hands with different government officials.

They were trying to convince the population that I was still with them but obviously after the first broadcast here, they couldn’t try that again. A lot of my former colleagues are thinking, ‘how could he forsake a regime that did so much for him?’.

Many of them, though, are also wishing that they could be where I am now. My dream as a journalist has always been rooted in the idea that Libya is underrepresented in the world. The world doesn't know how capable Libyans are and my dream is to show them that we are a nation of qualified professionals.

If I get the opportunity in the future to be a part of that on the international stage, I will. Of course at the beginning when I thought the Doha job may have been Al Jazeera, that dream would have been fulfilled.

But, after I got here and started working with Libyans, those in the diaspora and everyone else, I knew everyone was here for the same reason and cause. I am proud to be a part of that and happy that I came here.

Published on the Doha Centre for Media Freedom website on 17th November, 2011.