Katie Orlinsky

Free Libya

This body of work documents the rebel east of Libya and the city of Misurata. It is a journey through Libya from the early days of revolution through the dark days of civil war.

In mid-February 2011 a people's revolt against the 42-year dictatorship of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi began in Libya. Inspired by the “Arab Spring” in neighboring countries and rooted in long-held anti-Gaddafi sentiment, the country ignited after the arrest of lawyer Fathi Tirbil on February 15th and subsequent February 17th demonstration that left thousands dead.

As towns and cities across eastern Libya rose up against Gaddafi, Benghazi, the second largest city in the country, became the epicenter of the opposition. Soon all territory east of Benghazi became "free" and by late February a "Free Libya" was declared.

Large rallies outside the Benghazi courthouse were a daily occurrence, with the presence of women particularly strong. Women’s marches occurred almost every weekend. This was the first time many of the people on the streets of Libya ever experienced freedom of expression. To speak out in public against Gaddafi was something they never dreamed of. But now the emperor had no clothes, and everyone was laughing at him.

On March 8, the strategic oil town Brega was taken over by the rebel army- a newly formed rag tag coalition of former soldiers and volunteer fighters. The rebels lacked discipline, training, communication and strategy. Nevertheless, the Libyan civil war had begun.

Meanwhile two coastal towns in western Libya also joined the revolt, Zawiyah, located only 60 km from the capital Tripoli, and Misurata, strategically positioned between Tripoli and the Gaddafi stronghold city Sert. The uprising in Zawiyah was eventually crushed. Misurata soon became the last rebel holdout in Western Libya.

Surrounded by Gaddafi forces on all sides, Misurata was cut off from the outside world by land and reachable only by sea. Water was scarce, power was nonexistent in many sections of the city, and the death toll since the February fighting began was in the thousands. Civilian casualties from rocket and mortar attacks were an almost daily occurrence. Thousands of foreign workers spent months displaced from their homes in camps by the Misurata port.