Though her city is still coming under air raids, an American woman living in Libya says, “I want people to know that our city is free.”
Iman, a 29-year-old Libyan-American who grew up in California, said she awoke Wednesday morning to the sounds of helicopters and shooting, “what sounded like bombs,” in Misurata, Libya’s third largest city.
But when she ventured out onto the streets, she saw the protesters were “in complete control.”
The red, green and black flags of Libyan independence flapped from the main government buildings, local residents stood guard on streets lined with sandbags, and the mosques were calling for men to gather at the people’s hall to help protect the city.
“The city is being run by the city's lawyers and judges,” Iman wrote in a chat with msnbc.com via Skype. (She asked that her last name not be used out of concern for her safety.) “People are volunteering their cars to the organizers.”
Protesters posted signs reading, “No to disunity, no to corruption, no to destruction,” directed traffic and handed out water. They also called for a fast on Thursday in the city, which is located on the Mediterranean coast about 125 miles east of Tripoli, and is home to 300,000 people, according to Libyaonline.com.
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“As Muslims, we believe that when we break our fast that our prayers are answered,” said Iman, who has lived in the North African nation for two years. “So they are calling for everyone to fast and pray that we are victorious.”
On previous nights, Iman had huddled with female family members inside a house as men stood guard to fight off any foreign mercenaries, and she had covered her one-year-old daughter with pillows to protect from any attack on their home. One night, Iman said heavy gunfire rang through the air and she saw red balls of fire in the sky.
Some violence was reported on Wednesday: a local radio station taken over by protesters said it had come under attack and a girl was hit by shrapnel, said Iman, whose brother-in-law is a volunteer doctor.
Still, there was a sign of life: One of Iman’s neighbors gave birth to a boy on Wednesday.
“People were scared. There were tanks on the way to the hospital,” she said. “Things are still uncertain. Although they are stable now, we don't know how this night will pass.”
Men were also setting up “neighborhood watch”-type command posts and making rounds to protect houses. The men include the “very old” as well as “some boys so young they look like they've never shaved,” Iman said.
It was “grassroots organization at its best,” she said. “Today, I am proud to be Libya(n) and from Misurata. To see people stand together, united in the face of uncertain times, is amazing.”