Nasser

CRISIS, 1950s STYLE – THE SUEZ CANAL By Victoria Giraud

Crisis is an old word but it may never wear out its usefulness considering how often TV, the Internet, newspapers still around, radio, etc. use it. For a short word, it seems to get the appropriate emotion out there for a fearful reaction.

My first knowledge of the word probably came in Tripoli during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Although it affected Egypt more than Libya, it was a point of honor for a measure of self-rule for the Arab world.

Nasser, then President of Egypt, had taken control of the Suez Canal. Why should Britain and France control the canal that ran through Egypt, he reasoned? He wanted the tolls to help Egypt build the Aswan High Dam. It marked the spread of Arab nationalism, though Libya was late to that game, and Gadaffi didn’t seize power until 1969. According to some reports, the young Gadaffi took part in the riots in Libya. Good practice for his takeover later?

I’m going to share the comments from others who lived through the Crisis in Tripoli during those days. It was certainly nothing compared to Libya’s recent upheaval getting rid of Gadaffi’s government. Becky Rizek said: “I remember our house boy, Calipha, coming to work with bandages on his head and forehead. He said he was beaten because he was loyal to his American employers. He wanted to come to the States with us, which was impossible because he had at least one wife and three children. But for us, it was a day off from school. The kids on the base got to go to the Officers Club and wait on tables since the Arab waiters could not come in to work. I remember the MATS transports lined up on the runway at the base airport, ready to evacuate the American dependents should we have to go. I was all of thirteen and never forgot it.”

Elaine Frank recalled, “My dad’s car was stoned when he would come home from the base. We lived out on Homs Road and we lived in a duplex with a British family next door. They were shipped back (to the UK) and left in the middle of the night. We didn’t know what happened to them, but they eventually did return several months later. Like you said, this was just the way of life living in the military. We had to leave Morocco because of the French and Arab conflict in 1954/55, and we were in Japan during the Korean War. Kids just took it all with a grain of salt. People back in the States were scared for us but we were fine; it was just that the British and Americans looked alike, and that is why they would throw rocks at his car.”

“I recall the Suez Crisis, with machine guns on British and French embassies and King Idris’ guards beating heads with truncheons,” Mike Harris commented.

The Palace of King Idris long ago

 

Riots took place in front of the French and British embassies, and a couple of small bombs a day were set off in various areas of the city. It wasn’t a full-scale insurrection, but with the heat on, the British evacuated their women and children, flying them home to England.

Americans within Tripoli were put on a 6 p.m. nightly curfew and were told to have a bag with the barest necessities packed in case of evacuation. Gates and doors were to be locked and shades pulled down. We were all instructed not to venture into the old city. My mother got caught on the edges of a small demonstration near a friend’s house several blocks away. It scared her, but she was in our car and managed to leave without incident.

When you’re young, political situations don’t seem to matter. It was all just extra excitement and a chance to miss a couple of days of school. The curfew was moved to 9 p.m. within a week, and several weeks later, as things cooled off, life was back to normal. British families, however, did not return for several months.

 

 

 

 

Gaddafi’s Gone, What Next?

The world has experienced so many upheavals this past year: physical, emotional, intellectual. It’s been exciting and disturbing at the same time. Life was so much simpler before technology brought us so much instant information. Sometimes it’s too much to handle, and I want to go back to watching “I Love Lucy” and reading the comics.

When I lived in Tripoli in the 1950s, things seemed easier, probably because I was so young. Yet I was observant of a culture that was very different than mine. Under the surface of this desert land by the sea appreciated by so many, starting with the Phoenicians and the Romans, there was unrest brewing. The Suez Canal crisis erupted when Egypt wanted to take back its canal in 1956. Arab nationalism was stirring and Gaddafi was inspired, according to stories I’ve read. Nasser of Egypt was his hero and after Gaddafi took over Libya in a 1969 coup, he got to meet his hero. The LA Times had a photo of a skinny 27 year-old uniformed Gaddafi grinning like a kid as he shook Nasser’s hand.

I vividly remember watching Nasser on a huge movie screen erected in the large yard of the Egyptian Ambassador’s compound across the street from our villa on Via de Gaspari. It was shortly before the Suez Crisis and the movie was shown to an audience of Arab sheiks. During the crisis in Tripoli, there were a few bombings and small riots. Apparently, taking part in demonstrations, perhaps, was Gaddafi’s first exposure to political action. He was 14 and living in Surt, where he met his end last week.

Coincidentally, my daughter Heidi’s life span so far has coincided with Gaddafi’s rule in Libya. He took over in September of 1969. Heidi was born in L.A. in October 1969. It was her 42nd birthday on October 22 and Gaddafi died on October 20. Life has all sorts of unusual connections!

I didn’t want to watch the videos of Gaddafi’s last minutes, but they were hard to miss. Although I felt he had been a devious despot and destroyer of lives and got what he deserved, I couldn’t help but feel sorrow as he begged for his life while he wiped the blood from his face. Gone were the accoutrements of power; he bled like we all do. He had aged, his hair was thinner and he’d gained weight. His body was laid out in a cold-storage locker in Misurata. He could no longer inspire fear or envy. Death had claimed him as it had Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Sadem Hussain and the other tyrants of history.

Shakespeare’s immortal words here relate to the murder and mayhem in his famous “Macbeth” or as superstitious people call it, “The Scottish Play.” I think they ring true in the end for Gaddafi:

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools 
the way to dusty death.

Out, out, brief candle! 
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
 and then is heard no more.

It is a tale
 told by an idiot, full of sound and fury…

Signifying nothing.

A New Flag for Libya

 

It will be fascinating to see what happens to Libya now that they have the opportunity to make a new life and new future for themselves. It won’t be easy. If we look back to study the American Revolution, we can discover how bloody and complicated it was. We were truly blessed with the wisdom of our Founding Fathers. May Libya find the best leaders to stand up to the challenges ahead.

 

TIMELESS EGYPT

With the turmoil in Egypt in recent weeks, it seems the people have spoken and decided to take charge of their destiny. I look forward to good news as they move into their brave new world. While their new story is being created, I can’t help but recall another Egyptian uprising in 1956 when I was living in neighboring Tripoli, Libya.

Americans were not immune from the world’s volatile situations, then or now: Libya was, after all, in the Middle East. At the end of October 1956, we were plunged right into the middle of the Suez Crisis. One morning in Tripoli, the school busses didn’t arrive. After an hour of waiting, we learned the Libyan drivers had gone on strike, and many small riots had started. For us students, it was an ideal way to get out of school!

Nasser, then President of Egypt, had taken control of the Suez Canal. Why should Britain and France run the canal that ran through Egypt, he reasoned? He wanted the tolls to help Egypt build the Aswan High Dam. It marked the spread of Arab nationalism, though Libya was late to that game, and Gaddafi didn’t seize power until 1969. According to some reports, the young Gadddafi took part in the riots. Good practice for his takeover later? I wonder how Egypt’s recent actions will affect him now.

In 1956, riots took place in front of the French and British embassies, and a couple of small bombs a day were set off in various areas of Tripoli. It wasn’t a full-scale insurrection, but with the heat on, the British evacuated their women and children, flying them home to England.

Americans within the city of Tripoli were put on a 6 p.m. nightly curfew and were told to have a bag with the barest necessities packed in case of evacuation. Gates and doors were to be locked and shades pulled down. We were all instructed not to venture into the old city. My mother got caught on the edges of a small demonstration near a friend’s house several blocks away. It scared her, but she was in our car and managed to leave without incident.

When you’re young, political situations don’t seem to matter. It was all just extra excitement and a chance to miss a couple of days of school. The curfew was moved to 9 p.m. within a week, and several weeks later, as things cooled off, life was back to normal. British families, however, did not return for several months.

The U.S. and USSR had put pressure on the UN,  and there was a cease fire by November 6. Egypt had scored a political victory. I had seen a preview of Nasser’s growing power when I’d spied on the party held at the Egyptian Ambassador’s residence across the street from my home. Almost like being at a drive-in movie, I watched Nasser enthusiastically holding forth on a large screen while the sheiks in attendance were a captive audience.

As an American who believes in Democracy, I say: Power to the Egyptian People!

A New Home in Tripoli — Garden City

Just before Christmas in 1955, the five members of my family left the Hotel Del Mahari when my dad found a home in Garden City, an upscale location for Europeans, Americans and wealthier Libyans.  Consisting of streets like spokes that branched off Garden City Circle, the area was a neighborhood of one and two-story, flat-roofed, square and rectangular-shaped villas surrounded by stucco walls as high as ten feet. The walls were as much for privacy as protection, and many of them had decorative, fret-worked sections. Flowering vines such as bougainvillea, lantana hedges, and palm trees were ubiquitous; Garden City was an appropriate name.  It was some time before I discovered that the vibrantly-colored pink and purple bougainvillea vines that seemed to cascade from countless rooftops were in actuality growing up from the ground to the roof and not vice-versa.

The view from our balcony. The street leads to Garden City Circle

Our spacious home was on the second floor of a two-family villa on a street that maintained its Italian name, Via de Gaspari; a Libyan family lived downstairs. A balcony, on both stories, ran the full length of the villa’s frontage. Small square sections, supported by columns, jutted out at either end of the balcony, giving the villa a slight “U” shape. The slatted, green-iron gate led from the street to a small side yard, large enough for the swing set my father ordered, which flaunted our American ways in this faraway land.

A heavy wooden front door, which could be opened by key or from a buzzer upstairs, welcomed us to our new home; a two-tiered marble staircase led upstairs to a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment. There was no central heating, but since doors closed off the entrance hall, separate dining room and separate living room, we could keep the back bedrooms and kitchen warm in winter with portable Aladdin propane gas heaters. To add to the coziness and keep out pesky sand from ghiblis, the desert sandstorms that would blow into town on occasion, there were green wooden shutters that could be rolled down over the outside of all the windows.

Garden City was multi-cultural. Our side of a very short block boasted a British general and his wife on the corner next to us; another British family occupied the home on the other side. Across the street lived a French family and an Italian family, and a large corner compound surrounded by a decorative wall contained the home of the Egyptian ambassador to Libya.

The popular Gamel Abdul Nasser was in power in Egypt, and while we were there the ambassador held a party for Libyan dignitaries and politicians (only male, of course). I spied on the interesting event from our balcony and watched as his male visitors mingled. Robed Arab sheiks, with their distinctive square cloth headdress bound with gold rope, seemed to be the dominant guests. Seated at outside tables set up in the sizeable yard, they smoked as they watched films of Nasser on a giant movie screen.

The family home, above the Bougainvillea, surrounded by 8 foot walls

Facing an adjacent street but bordering on the back of our villa was the home of a former Arab queen, perhaps a relative of King Idris, then King of Libya. My girlfriend, Gail, who lived around the corner, and I were very curious about the mysterious queen but never had a glimpse, despite the fact that we would climb my back garden wall and peer through the trees into the lushly landscaped acres surrounding the queen’s home. Looking at Google Earth recently, the so-called Queen’s gardens still remain.

We played tennis in the street in front of the queen’s mansion, but were such poor players that we lobbed and lost balls in her gardens.  When we hit them into the General’s yard, we had an opportunity to flirt with the soldiers who attended him. These young men took to drawing cartoons of us, which they enclosed in an old tennis ball they had slit and then tossed in our direction. Walls were ideal obstacle courses for inquisitive girls. My girlfriend Karen and I scooted along the General’s back wall one night to spy on a big party he was giving.

My mother faced most of the household problems alone. She managed to eliminate most of the roaches, but ample hot water was usually a challenge. Tiny wall water heaters in kitchen and bathroom couldn’t keep up with our spoiled American demands. Always enterprising, she’d put large pots of water on top of the Aladdin heaters to get extra hot water. I was in charge of dishwashing, and it was my job to monitor this water when my parents entertained. We had brought our American washing machine with us, but it soon burned out, perhaps from the difference in electrical currents. Mom took to washing in the large bathroom tub, a normal size and shape. Fortunately for her, my thrifty father relented and decided he could afford an occasional maid since it would be difficult to procure another washer.

CAMELS, DONKEYS & THE SUEZ CRISIS

Americans living in Libya in the 1950s didn’t forget their normal holiday celebrations. For the Christmas pageant, there was the added novelty of local animals. The three wise men could ride real camels and Joseph could lead his Mary actually seated on a donkey.

The Fourth of July celebration had its own unique touch; four American Marines serving on the ships sent by President Thomas Jefferson had died in 1805 fighting the infamous Barbary pirates. The Barbary Pirate fort still stands facing Tripoli Harbor and the four long-dead Marines are buried in Tripoli. Americans familiar with the Marine Corps Hymn remember the well-known words, “From the Hall of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.”

The huge Fourth of July celebration I remember was held west of Tripoli at Thirteen Kilometer Beach, named appropriately for its distance from the city. Besides American food, fireworks and three-legged races, there were camel and donkey rides.

I looked forward to my first camel ride. Onto a makeshift seat that rested upon the camel’s sole hump, I climbed, grateful that the irritable, growling camel was muzzled. The camel’s legs were folded under him, but at his Arab handler’s insistence, the back legs unfolded first and I swayed, rump first, into the air. The front legs swung up and suddenly I was sitting above everyone with a view of the beach and the 1,000 or so celebrants. The handler led his camel slowly around a circle, and I enjoyed the swaying back as the animal crunched along on the heavy beach sand. It was a brief thrill and remembered again not long ago when I saw the second Sex and the City movie, filmed in Morocco, which featured the four heroines riding camels.

My friend Karen shows off her camel-riding skills!

The donkey I chose for my next excursion proved too much for my limited bareback equestrian talents. After meekly walking around a circle, the animal decided I was a pushover, and off he went up a small adjacent hill in search of grass. I shouted for help, concerned partially for my bare feet, but my friends thought I was having fun and waved at me happily. When the beast found his grass, he stopped and I gratefully jumped off, feeling foolish that I hadn’t done it sooner.

We were not immune from the world’s volatile situations; Libya was, after all, in the Middle East. At the end of October, 1956, we were plunged right into the middle of the Suez Crisis. One morning in Tripoli, the school busses didn’t arrive. After an hour of waiting, we learned the Libyan drivers had gone on strike, and many small riots had started. An ideal way to get out of school!

Nasser, then President of Egypt, had taken control of the Suez Canal. Why should Britain and France control the canal that ran through Egypt, he reasoned? He wanted the tolls to help Egypt build the Aswan High Dam. It marked the spread of Arab nationalism, though Libya was late to that game, and Gaddafi didn’t seize power until 1969. According to some reports, the young Gadddafi took part in the riots. Good practice for his takeover later?

Gamel Abdul Nasser, President of Egypt

Riots took place in front of the French and British embassies, and a couple of small bombs a day were set off in various areas of the city. It wasn’t a full-scale insurrection, but with the heat on, the British evacuated their women and children, flying them home to England.

Americans within Tripoli were put on a 6 p.m. nightly curfew and were told to have a bag with the barest necessities packed in case of evacuation. Gates and doors were to be locked and shades pulled down. We were all instructed not to venture into the old city. My mother got caught on the edges of a small demonstration near a friend’s house several blocks away. It scared her, but she was in our car and managed to leave without incident.

When you’re young, political situations don’t seem to matter. It was all just extra excitement and a chance to miss a couple of days of school. The curfew was moved to 9 p.m. within a week, and several weeks later, as things cooled off, life was back to normal. British families, however, did not return for several months.

The U.S. and USSR had put pressure on the U.N.,  and there was a cease fire by November 6. Egypt had scored a political victory. I had seen a preview of Nasser’s growing power when I’d spied on the party held at the Egyptian Ambassador’s residence across the street from me. Almost like a drive-in movie, there was Nasser enthusiastically holding forth on a large screen, and the sheiks in attendance were a captive audience.

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