Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Saturday, 4 June 2011 12:00 UK

DIY demolition on Gaddafi's pet projects

By Andrew Hosken
BBC News, Benghazi

A Libyan woman walks through garbage and construction material along with her children in the Benghazi's downtown

The antipathy between Col Muammar Gaddafi and the so-called "rebel stronghold of Benghazi" runs deep, with the Libyan leader leaving a trail of unfinished construction projects there.

The other day I was taken to see a pile of rubble in Benghazi.

As you can imagine, there are quite a few piles of rubble in Benghazi at the moment, with little to distinguish them.

But this pile stood next to fragments of a sports stadium and, lurking morosely on the periphery of some wasteland, were half a dozen or so floodlights, their long-extinguished lamps dipped more in pity than illumination.

We in Benghazi always know this of Gaddafi - the guy just can't finish anything he starts
Abdelsalam, engineering student

This was once the club HQ of the Al-Ahly Benghazi football club, and the remarkable story of how its hallowed turf was turned into scorched earth revealed much about Libya under Col Gaddafi and his family, and why the revolution originated in this extraordinary city.

In recent months, a number of important places have been reduced to ruins in what is habitually referred to as the "rebel stronghold of Benghazi".

Both the ministry of internal security and the hated Katiba army barracks have felt the force of revolutionary fervour.

Children inspect the destruction at the Katiba army barracks
Children wander around the vandalised Katiba army barracks

At the Katiba, the rebels requisitioned bulldozers from a local plant hire company to conduct arbitrary demolitions, as well as making a number of other alterations by means of fire.

Col Gaddafi always stayed in the Katiba during his few visits to Benghazi, whose people he always distrusted.

I had a look around, and I doubted very much whether he would like what they have done with the place.

As for the football club, retribution came its way in the shape of Col Gaddafi's football-obsessed son, Saadi.

In 2000, the fans of al-Ahly tired of the alleged match-fixing antics of Saadi, who ran a rival club in Tripoli.

Remains at Al-Ahly Benghazi football club
Damage done in retaliation for what happened at al-Ahly football club

They dressed a donkey in Saadi's football strip and generally behaved in the boorish way most of us expect to see on terraces the world over.

But Saadi's love of the game did not extend to tolerating the puerile behaviour of a few rival fans.

He had the clubhouse razed to the ground and arrested scores of fans - three were sentenced to death.

It is little wonder that among those rampaging around the Katiba were many al-Ahly fans, looking for a sudden-death goal against the regime in extra time.

Job half done

It is a remarkable story for many reasons - not least because the efficiency shown by the Gaddafi regime in knocking down the club stands in complete contrast to its apparent inability to put up any long-lasting legacy, particularly in Benghazi.

Oil brings us $120bn a year and yet everyone lives with their parents

Abdelsalam

A young engineering student called Abdelsalam agreed to take me on a strange tour of the great building projects that the regime, for all its supposed ruthlessness, has failed to see through to completion.

First up, the west Benghazi new town project 2000.

"Oil brings us $120bn (£73bn) a year," said Abdelsalam, "and yet everyone lives with their parents."

West Benghazi was supposed to provide the city's youth with an extra 200,000 homes and yet, as far as the eye could see, the husks of incomplete apartment blocks were all that constituted the promised utopia - that, and the many cranes that stood idly by.

Nearby, a placard hailed another Gaddafi project, the great trans-Libyan railway line, linking Tobruk and Egypt in the east with Tripoli and the west, and beyond to Tunisia.

You learned very quickly around here that Col Gaddafi was very fond of placards heralding grand new building projects.

What was happening behind the scaffolding was often very different, as was the case for the great trans-Libyan railway.

There was no great terminus (as yet), but the buffers seemed very soundly constructed. From here, the twin tracks coursed their way through the desert for about 800m (875 yards) before petering out beside a resting goatherd and his flock.

"What did I tell you?" exulted my young engineer guide.

Not only had Gaddafi failed to make the railways run on time he had... um... failed to make the railways.

Graffiti on a broken wall inside the Katiba
The people of Benghazi are vocal about the destruction in the region

Then it was off to Benghazi's newly-finished hospital.

"Started 40 years ago and just completed," said Abdelsalam. "They started and finished Dubai in the same time."

Then a look at the far-from-finished and apparently abandoned March 28th football stadium, where Libya hoped to host the 2013 African Cup of Nations tournament.

Other unfinished works included a cafe complex, a golf course and another of the colonel's celebrated man-made rivers, laid low by a big corporate bankruptcy.

"We in Benghazi always know this of Gaddafi," Abdelsalam told me. "The guy just can't finish anything he starts."

So here was a dictator whose diktat did not appear to run as far as building contractors, nor, would it seem, to the people of Benghazi.

"You can folly some of the people some of the time," said a graffiti message with delightful malapropism on a broken wall inside the Katiba. "But you can't folly all the people all of the time."

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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Libya
21 May 11 |  Country profiles


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