By Libya Herald reporter.
Tunis, 8 December 2015:
The recent children’s festival held between 5-7 December in the recently beleaguered city of Derna . . .[restrict]has attracted much thought and comment.
The people of Derna were able to celebrate their newly found freedoms and liberties after they had succeeded in pushing IS extremists to the outskirts of the city in June this year.
Organizers said that the festival was to reinforce the rights of the children of Derna to have hope after years of fighting and displacement and renew their feeling of safety and security.
Children enjoyed themselves playing games and receiving gifts and toys over the three days of the very successful festival that has sent a message of hope to the rest of the country and maybe even to the still currently beleaguered city of Sirte.
Derna is not totally out of woods as IS was evicted from the city by the local Mujahideen militias with help from Hafter and the Libyan National Army of the House of Representatives. The Derna Mujahideen were historically thought to be ideologically sympathetic to Al-Qaeda.
Nevertheless, whatever label the local Mujahideen are given, they seem in practice a far cry and much more moderate than the practices of IS in Sirte.
In contrast the people of Sirte live a miserable existence under the control of IS fighters. Local sources have informed Libya Herald that whilst they are free to travel in and out of the city, life in the city is under the total hegemony of IS.
The city is cut off from the rest of the world as mobiles do not work within it. Residents must leave the city to make calls usually by visiting Misrata. Most residents have no choice but to visit Misrata on a regular basis as no banks operate in Sirte and the only bank serving Sirte residents is located in Misrata.
Residents have to make regular trips to Misrata to do most of their shopping too as shops in Sirte are very short of goods, including cigarettes. Local shops are forced to pay an ‘’Islamic tax’’ to IS soldiers and are also forced to close at all prayer times. Smokers are fined for smoking.
Women in the city cannot wear the traditional moderate head scarf but are forced to dress in the full-cover all black niqab associated with the Gulf region or Afghanistan.
Most checkpoints in the city are manned by foreigners which rubs locals up the wrong way as they find it humiliating to be forced to open up their boots for a search by someone clearly speaking with a foreign accent.
Whilst many of the Al-Furjan tribe had to flee the city after the failed attempted uprising against IS this summer, most residents cannot afford the cost of rent to live in another city.
Equally, those who leave the city are liable to have all their property and possessions destroyed or taken and occupied by IS.
The attempted uprising left the city even more bereft of arms as IS carried out search and collect raids across the city to disarm its residents. This coming after the city had been stripped of arms by militias loyal to the 17 February revolution earlier on in 2011 and 2012.
The confirmation that most of the IS personnel at checkpoints seem to be non-Libyans leaves hope that one day, like Derna, the city could be reclaimed from its foreign invaders, if the conflicting Libyan factions can unit in confronting them.
Meanwhile the photos coming out of Derna this week of children happy and playing and full of hope contrast starkly to those usually coming out of Sirte showing summary IS executions and the like. [/restrict]