Jamal Saleh Basheer was born in 1962 in the Souq Jomaa district of Tripoli and raised by parents who had never been employees of the state. “We earned all we had from hard work and never so much as took out a government loan.”
Basheer’s father owned a water repository that was used to distribute water to the surrounding area. In 1970, the government took it, declaring it to be public property, without offering the Basheer family any compensation.
The next year, under the guise of a law known as ‘in the public interest’, the government again confiscated Basheer family property. “We owned a piece of land about four hectares large and they took it and built a school on it. They offered us nothing in compensation.”
By 1978, his family had bought twelve properties as an investment. “They were our family’s only source of income at the time. In 1978, Gaddafi issued law no 4 known as ‘the home is owned by its occupier’ and we lost them all to tenants who took over ownership without compensating us.”
The following year, in 1979, another confiscation law was issued. It was known as ‘partners, not employees’. “We had a building supplies company and a tile and marble production facility. They took it without compensation. It was very barbarian. Nine armed men came into the office with people from Gaddafi’s revolutionary committees and took the keys to the offices and supply rooms and cars and cranes at gunpoint.
The family was given thirty minutes to leave the premises. “This was the one that reached right to the bone and broke it.”
Basheer had applied to and been accepted to study at a university in Ohio. “All my dreams turned to thin air. My father’s emotional and financial state at the time made it impossible for me to go.”
His older brother was obliged to serve military service and sent to Chad. “After four years away, my mother had thought he was never coming back.” Basheer’s younger brother began to work to earn money and eventually emigrated to Canada.
Basheer believes the psychological destruction that these laws brought to many Libyan people and families was even greater than the material destruction. “We had to work in the evenings after our studies and my father, by then an old man with diabetes, had to go back to his roots of farming, working in the sun just so we could live.”
His father had been a farmer in the 1950s 1960s and, over the 1970s, lost all he had invested his money in. “If it wasn’t for all these laws, I would have gained a better education and had a better life. My father was a simple man and he had worked hard so that we may have the life he hadn’t. We weren’t looking for riches, just a good life.”
Describing Libya in the 1980s, Basheer says that “there was complete detachment. Libya was following the communist example. If you had money, there was nothing for you to buy. There were no private companies. Everything belonged to the government. Even the people belonged to the government.”
Basheer worked with his father growing and selling produce and with time he was able to retake a small commercial property in Souq Tholatha that the government had previously confiscated. “We regained it through diplomacy, not the legal system. Over the years, with my brother back from Chad, we continued in business and rebuilt ourselves. Until they knocked down the Souq in 2009.”
Thus the cycle began again and Basheer, unable to fund a new business, turned to working as an independent in whatever opportunities came his way. “We had one good day and ten bad days, working day to day to put food on the table.”