At the airport, a small group of protesters nostalgic for Gaddafi, noisy and pathetic.
In the hours that follow, a web of conspiracy sites concocts the most comical scenarios to explain my presence, along with Gilles Hertzog, on Tunisian soil: a shadowy meeting with Ennadha, an imaginary conference in Hammamet in the company of a jihadist, a secret rendezvous with a minister or president being summoned to confirm or deny something undisclosed.
But enough about that, because the essence of our trip lies elsewhere.
The minor agitation does not keep us from the only meeting that matters, a meeting of the heart and mind with suffering, beloved Libya.
Seated across from us on Saturday in a meeting room at our hotel is Waheed Burshan, an engineer from Gharyan whom I first met in June 2011, when he was setting up the airlift that would move food and weapons into the Jebel Nafusa mountains, cut off by Gaddafi’s forces.
With him and Ghazi Moalla, a Tunisian friend who put the meeting together, are representatives from Benghazi, Tripoli, Zawiya, Misrata, Ifren, and Nalut, cities and towns achingly familiar to us, way stations in the ordeal–and then in the liberation–of a people not our own but whose cause we had embraced.
One of those present makes an especially strong impression: Fadil Lamine, who, in the manner of André Gide and his famous remark (« Born in Paris of a father from Uzès and a mother from Normandy, where, Mr Barrès, would you have had me take root? »), begins by confiding that as the son of a father from Tripoli and a mother originally from Benghazi (and Berber to boot), he would be hard put to see himself as a member of any of the factions struggling for control of the nonexistent government: It is not by chance, he seems to be saying, that it fell to him to chair the Council on National Dialogue, at work since April 2013 to overcome the ethnic and political cleavages that are tearing the Libyan nation apart.
With tears in our eyes, we honor the memory of Salwa Bugaighis, the courageous young lawyer and advocate for women’s rights who served as the council’s vice-chair until her assassination in Benghazi on June 25 of this year.
We recall the day in March 2011 when she helped organize, along with future Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, the first unitary assembly of the tribes of Cyrenaica and Tripoli, an assembly to which we were invited and from which emerged the proud saying–« There is only one tribe in Libya: the tribe of free Libya »–that served as a sort of motto for us during the seven months we spent alongside an Arab nation in revolt.
It is that motto that must be revived, Burshan says gravely.
It is that spirit, he hammers home, that must be held up to the wreckers of the dream who, if we don’t stop them, could well end up unleashing the rivers of blood promised by Gaddafi’s son but that the allied intervention prevented.
What does one do, we ask, when everyone seems to care only about pressing his own advantage in a country in ruins?
What is the solution for a nation that has two prime ministers and two parliaments and where the state does not exist?
You work through civil society, Burshan responds, with quiet reflection.
You rely on the people of good will about whom one of your writers speaks–eminent examples are seated around this table.
When politics has gone bankrupt and finds its extension in fratricidal war, there is only one way forward, which is to make everyone understand that no one can win alone and that salvation, and suicide alike, can only be collective.
And there is only one program, which is to convene a sort of loya jirga to which all of the protagonists of this endless, devouring revolution will be invited and where those not present will mark themselves by their absence as the enemies of peace and of the nation.
Burshan and his friends are counting on France to sponsor this process.
They seek no outside intervention but envision the good offices of the country they consider the friendly nation par excellence.
You stood beside us in war, they say; stand beside us in peace.
You were our brothers in arms; may you be our brothers in reconciliation and reconstruction.
In a time of international terrorism, are not our borders your borders?
And with the south of Libya having become the arsenal and sanctuary of the new sect of the assassins rampant in the region, why not work together to secure it?
The meeting ends with a final word from each of those seated around the table, an exercise that seems to prefigure the government of sages and experts of which Burshan dreams: As each speaks his piece, one can glimpse, suddenly, the feasibility of that dream.
It is time for him now to hurry back to Libya: The news has just come in of a bloodbath in Kekla, near his home in the Jebel Nafusa.
It is time for us to return to Paris: We cannot rule out the possibility that we have just witnessed one of those events that Nietzsche said arrive on the feet of a dove but that sometimes are all the more decisive for their quiet approach–and we want to deliver the news without delay.
I see that we are not yet released from the oath we took in Libya.
We are not yet discharged, alas, from our responsibility to the people whom our country helped to liberate and now must help to rise again.
Hope is not dead.
The fight continues–peaceably.
Translated by Steven B. Kennedy