miércoles, 30 de marzo de 2011

The Minds of the Minders - Sky News (blog)

"I bet you can't wait for a holiday" I said, to one of our Libyan Government minders as we sat together in a small office in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli.

The two of us had been there nearly two hours. It felt like more.

I was undertaking the soul-crushing task of trying to get visas approved for a couple of colleagues. They had been waiting at the Tunisian border for days.

He looked as though he was as bored and fed up with the whole bizarre process as I was.

Faxes were being sent across continents, passports scanned, letters written, phone calls made, shouting matches had, and yet nothing seemed to really progress beyond a semi-hopeful nod, or an even less hopeful "inshallah" (god willing).

We had run out of things to say about visas. Neither of us could bring ourselves to talk in circles any more, which is why, in the spirit of the grim humour that keeps us going here, I asked him about the holiday.
But his answer was serious.

"You know, I didn't even know what holiday meant in English until very recently. Before, I always thought it meant a dinner, or a party", he said.

"I like the idea of it. But we work and work. I haven't had time to see my children properly for many weeks".

His children, he told me, live in his family home, a few miles from where we are staying - but facilitating the regime's efforts to both contain and pressurise international journalists is a 24 hour job.

He then described two episodes in his life, which had motivated him to learn English, which he now speaks very well.

The first was when he visited London some 20 years ago, and was saddened by the fact he'd been unable to make any friends. The second was the pain of being unable to translate for his father, as he lay seriously ill in a foreign hospital where none of the doctors spoke Arabic.

It's only in these rare moments of vaguely human connection that you get a glimpse into the minds of the minders.

They are not the chanting hoards, who go out every few days clutching green flags and posters of Colonel Gaddafi, conveniently turning up to the latest media outing laid on by the regime's journalist tour bus.

Nor are they the people who are possibly sitting in their homes in Tripoli and elsewhere, keeping quiet, keeping their heads down and waiting to see how things progress.

They are the permanently committed - the men who uphold the lies. If Gaddafi's regime does collapse, they face a very dangerous future. They perceive their own survival as being inextricably linked to that of the leader. It's a zero sum game.

Perhaps because of that, when the conversation goes beyond visas, or interviews or press conferences or the latest government statement, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of self-questioning.

It largely takes the form of bewilderment. They are genuinely bewildered by what they perceive as our lack of understanding, our refusal to believe their every word, our reluctance to be told where we should go and what we should see.

To them, we are an irritating, volatile, partisan mob - paid-up members of a campaign to unseat their leader and provoke a destructive civil war in their country.

To say we don't see eye-to-eye would be an understatement.

But I do pity some of these men - not because I've been duped, or have developed Stockholm syndrome, but because I am sure there are some who are genuinely wrestling with the question of what their personal future holds.

Some are without doubt deeply unpleasant, violent individuals. And there is a widespread sense of distrust, frustration and anger felt by all the journalists here towards our leather-jacket-clad minders, who keep us cooped up in our 5* house arrest, preventing us from doing our job.

But it's also clear there are differences and variations in the attitudes of the minders. The polarised narrative of 'pro-Gaddafi vs. rebel' is a useful mode of story-telling, but we would all be fools to forget there are shades of grey and nuance on all sides of this conflict.

The progress of the rebel front line, and the latest target of allied air strikes are key indicators of how this crisis is developing - but so too are the eyes and the quiet comments of the Gaddafi minders as they weigh up the potential consequences of their loyalties.
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Tom Rayner is a producer for Sky News, currently in Tripoli.
Twitter: @Tom_Rayner

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