Our miserable life in Libya

In Tripoli people queue at Bank for money [Photo: Social Media]

To say the lives of Libyans since their so called revolution in 2011 has been all but an uphill struggle against, sometimes, the impossible is an understatement! Life in Libya has been tremendously reduced to daily suffering despite the wealth of the country and when you recall how easy it was before 2011 you really miss the country you used to live in and of course miss the guy who used to keep it going so easy for the majority of people. Today’s Libya is a little bit of Somalia, Iraq, and Yemen combined together however differently.

This is a recent look at life in the capital Tripoli where it should much easier than in interior of the country where things are much worse.

Just imagine spending between 7 and 9 hours on average everyday without electricity while the average temperature is 40 degrees Celsius and humidity standing at around 60% or higher in the summer! On top of that you go to the bank maybe twice a week to get some money and after waiting for hours in the scorching Tripoli sun you are told there is none! It’s your money but still, you can not have it because banks are short of liquidity as they have been for the last year or so. Whatever cash they get they struggle to distribute to as many people as possible so no one gets enough which means you never get the exact amount you need; sometimes so desperately!

Assume that something goes wrong with your kitchen sink so you contact the plumber to come and fix it. He demands cash payment – most likely he is an illegal worker with no bank account. You let the sink dribbles on as you think of saving whatever cash you have for something more important in a country where cash dominates the economy so every payment is made in cash!

Lately some shops started accepting payment cards and checks but only at 30% higher than the cash price and sometimes even higher hike in prices. You demand an explanation from the grocery or any other shopkeeper and his answer is usually this: unfortunately, this is what we have and if you do not like it we can not do anything about it! Unless of course he knows you and trusts you enough to accept checks. But how many people will he know and trust?

If you are having a bad day and end up seeking medical help your problems will only multiply. You go a public hospital seeking treatment but you only find a doctor who sees you after waiting for at least two hours. You are lucky if you only walk away with simple prescription however it will cost you a great deal of cash! remember the cash is a red line for you not for medicine though! And Remember that before the 2011 revolution you as a Libyan used to get a medical checkup and the medicine at half price or completely free at any public hospital.

If you really have a bad luck your condition will require serious medical intervention. Because all public hospitals which used to treat people for free are almost desert and lacking the basic things such as simple injection, simple pain killers and of course electricity in most of them.

If the doctor decides that you have to have an operation then be ready for a long list of shopping! Yes medical shopping if you like. The respected doctor will give you a list of the things he needs for your operation and you have to go to the medical supplies shop (all private) and buy everything the doctor needs! This will bring you back to the issue of cash again! You could have gone to a private clinic (most of them illegally operating) but the cost is prohibitive! At least in the public hospital, the doctor will operate on you free of charge however at his own convenience!

In case things get worse and you are advised to seek medical treatment abroad then you are going through hell itself.

First, you have very little choices as where to go since all European countries require visas and to get one you have to spend a huge sum in cash again to get the visa, travel to Tunisia at least once since there are no EU embassies in Libya. You need much more cash to actually travel for your medical treatment. So Europe is out of the question and you are left only with three choices Egypt, Jordan or Tunisia; the only three countries where visas are not prerequisite as you can get them on arrival except for Tunisia where no visa is required.

Then you have to think about the financial side of things. To go abroad for medical treatment means you would need at least five thousand USD. To get such a figure nowadays in Libya you would need to buy it at the black market at the prevailing rate. For the last nine months or so the Libyan dinar has devalued against all other currencies. You are lucky if you can get the five thousand figure for, say, 42 thousand Libyan dinars! Recall here again the chronical cash problem and of course that the average income in Libya is about 500 LYD or about 60 USD. Before the “revolution” it income averaged around USD 300 while the exchange rate was around 1.3 LYD to the dollar. At the same time, you used to buy almost everything at subsidized prices supported by the government including hard currency for serious matters like medical treatment abroad.

This depreciation of the Libyan Dinar has led to a multitude of other problems. Prices of daily consumer goods have increased by some 200% and in some cases by 500% in less than five months in 2017 while some goods are no longer available because their prices have become so high that shop keepers do not sell them anymore. For example, it is very difficult to find certain shaving creams or plates just as it is so difficult to find after shave or good sun classes, reasonable perfume or shampoo. A one-liter bottle of olive oil costs around 15 LYD while a good suite would cost you around 1500 LYD and nice shoes should be available for 400 LYD so people learned to go without such things. One baguette now costs 5 times what it used to be six years ago while one kilo of fresh meat costs three times what it used to be then. Bread is the staple of the day for every family.

As a Libyan you are likely to remember as a distant memory the time, just before six years, when USD=1.3 LYD and in the case of medical needs you are likely to get it cheaper from the central bank in case your condition does not meet the criteria for free medical treatment abroad! Bread used to cost less than 10 LYD cents.

So no wonder that many people who had to go abroad for medical emergencies had to sell their cars and sometimes their homes to have enough cash for their treat. No wonder very few Libyans travel for medical treatment let alone for leisure!

The other day a friend commented to me by saying “if you get sick pray to God that it is a simple matter or if not then pray that you die quickly as the longer you are sick the more ruins you will bring to yourself and your family!”

No one seems to have any answer to why our lives have become so difficult.

Yet we still have two governments, two parliaments, one State Council, two prime ministers, so many ministers, and even more political parties.

One of our prime ministers just called for a new election for next March while the other said no! I have yet to find a single Libya who really cares about elections anymore as everyone is busy solving at least two problems every day and none of them is easily solved!

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Libyan Express's editorial policy.

Mustafa Fetouri

Written by

Libyan academic, award winning journalist & analyst

Articles published: 3.

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Comments reflect the opinions of the visitor and not those of Libyan Express, its editorial board or staff.

  • Solemio Solemio

    There is answer, even you know that very well. One of premier call for election, good!!! But what ever you have seen any country can propose election without constitution??? So, it mean, its just the next game from them. Before he come to his position price for dollar was 2.50. And no that horrible lines around banks. But militias has money on time, cash, for that criminal structures no problem, more than need. Haw many militia in Libya??? Haw much politicians spend for traveling up and dawn for meetings, medical services, also for all theirs families, also just for weekands. They are in paradise, but people in hell. That what the job have done for Libyan people by new P.M., What ales? Noting good. Better he go back to his shop to sell doors……..

  • Ioan Tat

    Sad, really sad..been working myself in Libya, I have many Libyan friends over there and I’m worried on daily base for them..
    God give your people, politicians. wisdom to solve the suffering of your people…

    • schmichrido

      I agree fully. Been working too in Libya for so many years and to see what my west has done to the country and it’s people is a shame.

      But, I’m sure the Libyans will find their way. And, I hope, they won’t allow to be split by the US. Only being united they can win. Just to remember when once they kicked the Italians.

  • Chrissi

    Mustafa, I read intensively your posting and yes, also me, having been working in Libya for years in your country I can remember so well what you in detail describe. I guess, now Libyans know what they have lost with the killing of Col. Gaddhafi, despite the ticks he ever had. I remember so well, when Libyans came into my office complaining that the mudhir was deniing to give import licenses easily to the people … wanting to build up an own libyan production in the country.

    And, as I remember too, the medical treatment in the hospitals certainly were free, but you to remember as well, that the eastern european staffs, only gave expired medications to the people while the new ones where sold for 50 USD. Remember that too. In that times, I never understood why Libyans accepted this corruption in the hospitals so easy instead of fighting it. A libyan friend of mine she got sick because of those expired medications.

    You Libyans need to remember who produced the actual situation to you, which countries were involved in that dirty game and the reasons, the real reasons why Libya was destroyed by them. They are not based in “how bad and terrible” Col. Gaddhafi has been, they are based only in his plans to build up an independent Libyan state wanting to leave the Petro-$. That is why he had to die. –

    So now see the reality, United Nations/US want to split your country in 3 parts … and you know what does it mean … right? Europe wants to put money in the country and boots on the ground for (they say) training reasons. Are you sure you can still trust? Especially when you see who is giving the direction for Europe?

    I think, you Libyans should remember those times, when you kicked out the Italians out of your country and those preconditions for. The preconditions were, the people were united, the country were united even it really did not exist yet. But, the unification of the Libyan people was the basement of the countrie’s freedom.

    Now you’re back in such a situation that others want to take control over your country. They’ll give you money and in exchange install migrant hot spots on it, of course not under libyan control but under theirs … . You know what it means, right?

    Now, the Americans want to reassure you on their support for your country … what US-support means, we see it in the actual situation of your country and the whole situation in the middle east … . With such a friends you don’t need any enemies.

    I think, you the Libyans should force your leaders to work together and not just for power wanting to maintaine there own areas. I can’t tell you which politician in your country is right or wrong. This is what you the Libyans can decide only and … I think the elections coming in March next year should decide it. Take the chance to reunite your country with those elections and minimize the foreign western boots on the ground in Libya, Americans, French and Britains. They have nothing to seek there as you as the Libyans can’t be sure, if they don’t cooperate with the militias providing them at least with money. It would not be the first time they do that wanting to reach their goals.

    That is what I feel being outside Libya and reading your posting and what I wanted to tell you.