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Gloomy mood in war-torn Libya on eve of Eid al-Adha

AFP logoAFP 7/31/2020 AFP
a herd of sheep standing next to a wire fence: Libyans at a livestock market in Tajoura, east of the capital Tripoli, ahead of the Eid Al-Adha annual festival © Mahmud TURKIA Libyans at a livestock market in Tajoura, east of the capital Tripoli, ahead of the Eid Al-Adha annual festival

Worn down by conflict, poverty and the pandemic, many Libyans are gloomy this year on the eve of the holy Muslim Feast of Sacrifice, or Eid al-Adha. 

A usually bustling annual sheep market on the outskirts of the capital Tripoli lies largely deserted, lambs bleating in their wire-mesh pens with few customers in sight.

A handful of potential buyers eye the sacrificial animals, their makeshift enclosures partially shaded against the blazing summer sun, in the suburb of Tajoura.

Breeder Suleiman Ertel got up long before dawn to bring his livestock from his hometown of Zliten, about 140 kilometres (90 miles) away, to the biggest animal market in western Libya.

For Muslims, the festival honours Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God, who then intervened and provided a sacrificial lamb instead.

The faithful commemorate this by ritually sacrificing an animal -- a sheep, goat, cow or even a camel -- and dividing it into three parts; for the poor, for relatives and for the home.

a group of people walking in the sand: Eid Al-Adha is celebrated each year by Muslims, who in Libya sacrifice animals according to religious traditions, including goats and sheep as well as cows and camels © Mahmud TURKIA Eid Al-Adha is celebrated each year by Muslims, who in Libya sacrifice animals according to religious traditions, including goats and sheep as well as cows and camels

"Usually, in the days before the festival, people rush to buy their sheep," Ertel said, his eyes scanning the dusty three-square-kilometre (one square mile) expanse.

But this year high livestock prices, a pandemic-driven fear of crowded markets, a financial crisis and heightened insecurity in Libya itself have all kept customers away.

For livestock farmers like him, Ertel said, "everything is more expensive. Fodder has doubled in price, but also transport costs between towns, because of insecurity on some routes.

a train traveling down a dirt road: Mine clearance operations in June south of the Libyan capital Tripoli after the retreat of forces allied with eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar © Mahmud TURKIA Mine clearance operations in June south of the Libyan capital Tripoli after the retreat of forces allied with eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar

"It's discouraging," he said.


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- Virus surge -

The frugal and downbeat festival comes as Libya has endured almost a decade of violent chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

a group of people on a beach near a body of water: Libyans cool down at the beach amid electricity cuts and soaring temperatures in the capital Tripoli © Mahmud TURKIA Libyans cool down at the beach amid electricity cuts and soaring temperatures in the capital Tripoli

Tripoli, seat of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), was besieged until several months ago by forces loyal to eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar, and the battlefront has since moved to central Libya.

The war, involving foreign mercenary forces, fighter jets and drones paid for by multiple outside actors, has taken a heavy human toll but also battered the oil-dependent economy.

The war-weary country is also plagued by water shortages and power blackouts that hobble air-conditioners and also make it impossible to store meat in freezers.

The deplorable situation is compounded by the COVID-19 crisis, which has depressed global oil prices. The virus itself has flared again in Libya despite curfews, the closure of schools and mosques, and a travel ban.

a pile of dirt in front of a building: A Tripoli building damaged during the 14 months of fighting between the UN recognized Government of National Union and forces loyal to Marshal Khalifa Haftar © Mahmud TURKIA A Tripoli building damaged during the 14 months of fighting between the UN recognized Government of National Union and forces loyal to Marshal Khalifa Haftar

In recent weeks, new infections have surged above 100 a day for the first time since the virus was detected in the North African country in late March. 

There have been 3,017 confirmed cases and 67 deaths in Libya from the respiratory disease, deemed by many as underestimates in a divided country with a shattered public health system.

- 'We hesitate' -

At  Tajoura's market, Ahmed Al-Fallah spent his third day searching for a sheep he could afford, in a desperate bid to try to maintain the crucial religious and family tradition.

"I ask about prices without being able to buy anything," he told AFP, keeping an eye on one of his three sons posing for a photo next to a sheep.

"I don't have enough money. I think I'm going to have to borrow some."

An average-sized sheep costs 1,200 to 1,400 dinars (740 to 860 euros) -- too much for many Libyans who, even if they have the means, cannot withdraw enough cash from their bank accounts. 

"Most banks have capped withdrawals at 1,000 dinars in the days leading up to the festival," said Mohamad Kecher, another frustrated customer at the market.

"So we hesitate," he said. "Should we spend it all on the sacrificial sheep or keep the money for the family's expenses for a month?"

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