Saleyha Ahsan: Doctors on strike in Tripoli

Saleyha AhsanAn uneasy calm rests on Tripoli these days. A lack of effective security is having disruptive consequences. Recently local doctors took matters into their own hands by shutting down their hospital for ten days.

Staff at the Central Hospital went back to work after ending the strike action on 20 December. It follows an incident where local armed militia broke into the office of Professor Nureddin Aribi, the hospital director, and forced him out at gunpoint and then briefly detained him. Colonel Mustafa Al Tir, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior, describes the incident as a “misunderstanding.” Professor Nureddin has not been contactable since his release.

“The strike was called by junior doctors—no consultants were involved,” explained an orthopaedic registrar. He along with nine middle grade doctors on the strike committee refuse to give their names. Such is the desire to move away from “dictatorship,” that the culture has swung into anonymously led consensus groups. “The problem is now solved and we are going back to work, but we will see how it goes,” he said. A meeting of 400 doctors took place on 19 December. Collectively they accepted the Ministry of the Interior’s security plan and agreed to end the strike.

Central Hospital has had security problems since Tripoli was liberated in August. Last month doctors walked out when an intern, Dr Mohamed Baruni, was attacked by local armed militias on the hospital grounds. He had been trying to protect a female colleague from armed militia, who were insisting she end her break and go back inside to work. The attack was filmed on a mobile phone and posted on Facebook.

Improved security was promised but armed local militia continue to interfere with doctors’ work. One reported incident describes a gunman even entering the operating theatre.

Professor Nureddin was publicly calling for better security at the hospital. Following this he was himself attacked. Now a new plan has been proposed by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior. National Security and thawaar fighters from the revolution will guard the hospital.

“No guns will be allowed inside the hospital at all,” warned Colonel Mustafa Al Tir.

Tripoli Local Council (TLC) have responded to such incidences with the launch of the “Libya Law and Government” campaign which is calling for improved security in Tripoli.

“We acted as intermediaries pushing the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Health to fix this,” explained TLC’s media spokesman, Hussam Zagaar. The TLC does not have authority to deploy police but they have worked behind the scenes to encourgae those that do to act.

Security is failing in other areas too with tragic consequences. Recently, Mohamed Al Ghosbi, 37, was killed by gunmen as he sat in his car. The armed militia wanted his car—a 4 x 4 Pathfinder. Ironically he was shot yards away from the entrance of the Tripoli Medical Centre, the city’s largest hospital. He couldn’t be saved and he leaves a wife and ten month old son.

His friend Dr Hatem Abubaker, 38, describes him as “a quiet, gentle man who loved to play the guitar.”

Abubaker is behind a month old “no-gun” campaign which has involved distributing 5,000 posters across Tripoli.

“We want to shame people who carry guns to make them feel like smokers who smoke in non-smoking zones.”

Mohamed’s death was the third in the last ten days where armed men have shot civilians in Tripoli.

Colonel Al Tir has promised that “in two weeks everything will be sorted with no more guns on the street.”

Returning from his friend’s funeral, Abubaker is driven to make this a reality.

“When I started this campaign, it was a general thing, now it has become personal. Mohamed was my close friend.”

Saleyha Ahsan is a British doctor working as a volunteer and a journalist in Tripoli.