Home News The new Libyan heroes embrace an old rhetoric – Khalifa Abo Khraisse

The new Libyan heroes embrace an old rhetoric – Khalifa Abo Khraisse

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The new Libyan heroes embrace an old rhetoric – Khalifa Abo Khraisse

August 18, 2022 3:03 pm

We were seated in a bar in Rome that only served an exorbitant variety of drinks and avocado dishes. I laughed to myself, thinking that this was not what I wanted to eat and that the Italian capital had much more to offer in gastronomic terms. The avocado temple was located in a very beautiful area of ​​the historic center, characterized by a balance between authenticity and the kind of alterations necessary to attract tourists. This balance is an art that the Romans are rapidly perfecting. However, there are still entire districts of Rome that seem to have been transformed into film sets. It is very expensive to make the bars next to the avocado temples look like old-fashioned cafes.

While I tried not to let my disappointment emerge at the elegant avocado menu – too healthy for my taste – my friend and I talked about another thing that had disappointed me: the movie. Jee Robot.

“I didn’t like it,” I told her, and tried to explain why. First of all, the plot of the film forces the implantation of a classic American superhero film into an Italian setting and context that appears wholly inadequate. Then, the characters are immature, almost stunted. Enzo, the male protagonist, is an apathetic delinquent with many defects all traced back to a single reason, namely the fact of living in the wrong part of the city. The person he is in love with, Alessia, is a defenseless child in the body of an attractive woman.

A club for men only
The film develops a Hollywood cliché that appeals to sexual fantasies about attractive women with the wit and posture of little girls. And by just functioning as just reasonably normal human beings, male heroes automatically become their guardians. This sexist and deviant description – motivated by men’s fear of being rejected and losing their position of dominance intellectually – is extremely irritating. To complete it all there is the part in which the protagonist sexually imposes himself on the girl, who instead she was not interested. This coercion was strangely ignored by reviewers and, apparently, accepted by the public.

“Beltress” is an expression in slang Libyan which means “for men” in the sense of “real men” and works as a secret handshake between males

My friend defended the film by emphasizing how the protagonist embodied the reality of many invisible individuals in Rome, albeit dramatizing it in a comic key, because it is still a superhero film. Her remarks were accurate, but they did not change my critical opinion of the film and its protagonists.

As I struggled to articulate my negative reaction to the film, I realized that it was somehow related to the discomfort that a recent phenomenon in Libya is causing me. Lately, the streets of the country have been invaded by marches of protesters wearing yellow vests and who for many have embodied a hope for change. I did not share this optimism, partly because the demonstrations were inspired and led by a progressive yet reactionary movement called Beltress.

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The Beltress movement has managed to bring hundreds of people to the streets demanding the exit of the administrations and legislative authorities of the country, now worn out. Although the movement has apparently managed to subvert at least in part the political stagnation of Libyan society, its origins, principles and objectives are problematic and full of contradictions. What is the history of this movement? Why are its apparent contradictions the most evident reflection of the immaturity of the young protagonists of Libyan politics? And what happened to that spark of change?

“Beltress” is an expression in slang Libyan which means “by men”, or better still, “in the name of men”. And in this case the term “men” is not used in a generic sense, but in the sense of “real men”. It’s a mystical expression that works like a secret handshake between males. When used, it refers to the way real men should behave: starting with stubbornly tough-guy things like never putting on seat belts and never crying in public to more noble codes of conduct like telling the truth openly, offer help without expecting anything in return and do not neglect those in need. Being a man in Libya is not only a privilege, but also a responsibility, a perennial examination to prove that you are worthy of this honor and an endless competition to see who is the most human of men.

The Beltress movement calls itself a brotherhood. It started as a Facebook group between 2012 and 2013 and has become a virtual male community serving the community and dedicated to charitable activities in support of the most needy and disadvantaged classes of society. The brotherhood directly collects donations from its members without being affiliated with sponsors or supporters, neither corporate nor government, and above all without ties to foreign countries. It quickly established itself among young people thanks above all to the declared goal of its leaders of not wanting to exclude anyone, regardless of orientation or political affiliation.

Social credit in support of political action
The Beltress movement has activated with various humanitarian and social interventions, launching crowdfunding campaigns to help the poorest families, providing food during Ramadan, finding work for unemployed young people and coordinating blood donations. The group became increasingly popular and was praised by many young influencers. In 2021 he organized his first street mobilization to protest against the electricity cuts, managing to rally many protesters.

The nuances contained in Beltress’s statements and comments are another less obvious reason for her enormous popularity and her great ability to attract young people. In addition to the populist and galvanizing rhetoric, the group has neglected all areas of the political debate by agreeing on the need to completely abolish the political subjects currently protagonists of the country’s political arena. He is also anti-feminist, hostile to secular activists, harsh in condemning homosexuality, and suspicious of nonprofits that receive funds or training from foreign organizations.

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This combination of ideals and populist language has attracted many young people and the result embodies the typical caricature of the “common Libyan”

The movement expresses a mixture of numerous components inspired by “foreign and secular” movements and ideologies. For example, its members began to wear a yellow uniform, inspired by the French yellow vest movement, for which they expressed great admiration. He is also in favor of “Libyan nationalism”, inspired by the model of Ho Chi Minh which has had a strong influence on its founder, Omar Tarban. This is demonstrated by the many quotes that Tarban himself constantly shares. This combination of ideals and populist language has attracted many young people and the result embodies the typical caricature of the “common Libyan” one meets on the street, according to the cultural standards that Libyan society sets for men.

In early July, very popular demonstrations began to openly invoke civil disobedience. The protesters called for the resignation of all political and legislative subjects and bodies and the organization of new elections to replace them. However, the unstructured form of the movement has allowed many other political actors to take advantage of the impetus generated by these protests and launch parallel campaigns. Some have called for the resignation of the prime minister of the national unity government Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, others have denounced Fathi Bashagha, prime minister of the parallel government, still others have chanted slogans in support of Saif Al Islam Gaddafi.

Protests took place peacefully in some areas, but turned violent in many others, complete with tire fires and roadblocks that culminated in the destruction and burning of the parliament building in the city of Tobruk, the region. eastern part of the country. Paradoxically, Haftar, Dbeibeh and Bashagha all expressed their support for the demonstrations and their demands, but on the ground there have been many arrests and the closure of main roads in many cities.

Like the movie Jee RobotBeltress embodies the reality of many invisible individuals in Libya, providing an outdated and failing model

Within a few days the demonstrations grew in intensity and many began to look at them with a flicker of hope that something could finally change. However, that momentum and that hope were short-lived. Shortly after, the founders of the Beltress movement themselves revoked the appeals to take to the streets, citing the lack of official authorization as a justification. In the eyes of some, a rather silly motivation has appeared that nullifies the very concept of civil disobedience, not to mention the fact that thinking of obtaining permission from those in power to demonstrate to drive it out is, to put it mildly, quite naïve.

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At the end of the month, the movement responded to allegations that its founders had received large sums of money to stop their activities. According to the movement’s leaders, the truth is that they had received death threats from groups affiliated with the national unity government and that they had been forced to stop because they feared for their lives and those of their families. In short, money or lead: whatever the reason, what began as a hope for change ended suddenly, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of those who believed in it and a free field for the militias that took over the armed conflicts exploded in the cities.


The Libyans will not be able to overcome their lack of political awareness and experience in a short time. Filling this void will require many attempts and failures. For the same reasons, one can understand how the Beltress movement took shape as a Frankenstein monster, a mess of contradictory idols and idols held together by sexist and populist rhetoric and fueled by anger. As my friend said about the movie Jee Robot, Beltress “embodies the reality of many invisible individuals” in Libya. And yet he gives others a reason to join an outdated and failing model. Like a film with an ecstatic audience, the social movement gives young people a sense of belonging to something, in the absence of a more cohesive and meaningful motivation.

Good intentions and appeals to the masses cannot justify ignorance of the Kantian categorical imperatives. The important thing is not the final goal, but how you get there. Beltress fails as a populist movement because it doesn’t really represent all Libyans. It embraces a misogynist rhetoric, uncritically accepts all the old principles – the good ones and the bad ones – and tries to mold them into a new unsuitable form.

It might be worth observing that some of those principles, such as honesty, generosity and the willingness to help others unconditionally are always valid and to be safeguarded, just as some historic districts of Rome must be adequately safeguarded and not abandoned by the all between restaurants where you eat only avocado and bars for tourists. There is nothing wrong with introducing new elements to revitalize old ones. But it’s possible that real change in Libya requires heroes made of a whole new material, and not the usual guys in a new jacket.

(Translation by Giusy Muzzopappa)

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