Faisal Moftah Oraygeeb was on holiday in Tripoli during Gaddafi’s coup of 1969. He had expected to return to the Choueifat boarding school in Lebanon at which he was a student. But soon after the coup, when his father returned to Tripoli from Rome where he had been during that fateful day of 1 September 1969, his plans changed.
“My father was head of Libya’s parliament at the time of the monarchy. He was offered political asylum in Italy but refused it. When he returned to Libya, he was taken from the airport directly to the Black Horse prison were he was put in a section specifically for people from the previous political era. He spent three years in prison, without an accusation or trial.”
After his father’s imprisoned, Oraygeeb had to leave his studies and stay in Libya to care for his mother and seven sisters. “I found a job with an Italian communications company but they let go of me after three months because, they said, their client, the military committee, had requested they do so.”
Oraygeeb asked his former boss to help him get to the United States. He made it there and spent two years in the States studying tourism. “I returned to find Gaddafi had nationalised all the companies and created yet another bump in the road for me. I ended up working for the national Duty Free company. Because of who my father was, I was paid a salary of 91 dinars, while others were being paid 500.”
Oraygeeb’s father owned a large piece of land on which stood a building they rented out to a school and a number of villas. His brother Abdelhameed managed the land and the tenants while their father was imprisoned.
One of the prison chiefs at the Black Horse prison had asked Abdelhameed to rent out a particular villa to him. He informed the chief that it was unavailable, but that he was welcome to rent a different one. “The next time my brother was visiting our father in the prison, the prison chief called him in and beat him so badly he was in hospital and the incident made news in Morocco.”
The villas and the building were all eventually lost to the regime, which issued a multitude of laws during the 1970s that enabled it to confiscate property without compensation.
“We were very fortunate to have wealth. We should have been able to send our young to school and build homes for them. Instead, Gaddafi took all we had for his own benefit, and the advancement of his opinions, not caring about Libya’s families.”
The family owned a four-story building on Shawqi Street with seven apartments and two shops. Law no 4 of 1978 stated that ‘property now belonged to those who lived in them’. As a result, the tenants of the building took ownership of the apartments.
“Luckily my brother was living in one of the apartments at the time, so we were able to keep that. But, we also owned a building on Bab bin Ghasheer Square that my father rented out to the university for student housing. The regime confiscated it and turned it into apartments.”
Earlier in the decade, Oraygeeb’s father had suffered many more losses. “In 1971, the regime confiscated a piece of land measuring four hectares which my father rented out to Fiat. They also nationalised the company, bankrupted it, and many Libyans, ourselves included, lost all their shares.”
The following year, under a law known as ‘in the public interest’, the regime confiscated part of another piece of land owned by the family in order to build a road. Just as was the case for all the other confiscations, no compensation was offered.
“Around the same time, Gaddafi was inviting Libyans to invest in a number of companies for the good of Libya. My father invested 380,000 dinars in fifteen different companies. It soon became clear that the whole programme had been a fake. I heard Gaddafi myself once refer to the issue on tv in a speech. He said it was none of our business. His people could do what they want and it was none of our business. Imagine the audacity!”
Over a period of no more than ten years, Oraygeeb’s father had lost three years of his freedom; Oraygeeb himself, and his siblings, had lost the opportunity of the good education they had expected; and the family had lost much of its wealth. Oraygeeb now lives in his father’s former home with his wife and six children.
“Despite my father being number two in the country’s political system, when Gaddafi went out in 1969, I went out and supported him because we youth wanted change. But in 1974, it became clear to me what he really was. All those years in between though, I supported him and was convinced by his words. But in 1974, I knew that this man was no good.”