The Libyan revolution started in mid-February 2011, at the height of the ‘Arab Awakening.’ Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak had already fallen and the uprisings seemed to be gathering pace across the Middle East and North Africa.
The spark for Libya’s revolution came on 15 February, when the lawyer Fathi Terbil, who represents relatives of more than 1,000 prisoners allegedly massacred by security forces in Tripoli’s Abu Salim jail in 1996, was arrested. Thousands took to the streets to protest in Benghazi, Libya’s second city.
The crowds marched on government buildings and over the following days their numbers swelled, with some calling for regime change after clashes with Gaddafi supporters and security services erupted. After days of street battles and huge losses on both sides, Benghazi was liberated on 19 February. Other major cities in the east such as Tobruk, Derna and Al Bayda also fell into the hands of the revolutionaries.
But the gathering momentum in the east proved much harder to carry forward across the rest of the country. To the west of Benghazi a war of attrition was fought across the vast desert and remaining coastal towns. Gaddafi forces used their superior skill and weaponry to target the rebels and despite Nato’s intervention in March, rebel fighters continued to come under heavy bombardment. Ground was constantly won and lost as neither side consolidated their gains.
One city that arguably paid the highest price in the uprising was the coastal port of Misrata. Here, loyalist troops surrounded the area and soon the only way in or out of the besieged city was by boat.
Misrata’s citizens were left alone to defend their homes and families from the onslaught of Gaddafi’s troops, tanks and artillery. Due to the sprawling urban landscape and dense population of the city, Nato air strikes proved impossible to launch. Instead, young Libyan men used what weapons they could to defend their neighbourhoods, freedom and honour.