Benghazi (Libya) (AFP)
Bikers in the Libyan Mediterranean city of Benghazi, the cradle of its 2011 revolution and a former Islamist stronghold, turn their engines to show another side of their war-torn country.
In a cocktail of glistening chrome and rumbling engines, dozens of heavy leather motorcycle enthusiasts tear through the asphalt in regular parades through the windy city streets.
The convoy of Harley, Honda and Kawasakis emerges from the headquarters of the Benghazi Motorcycles Club.
For club members, cycling is not only a passion, it is also a way of portraying the city in a different light – a semblance of normalcy despite Libya’s pervasive divisions and violence.
“There are those who fight, and there are those who have a passion,” says proud club president Ahmed al-Fitouri, behind a thick beard and long hair.
“French and British teams filmed us, and we showed them that not all Libyans go to war, they are not all criminals,” he said.
Two by two, the bikers parade through the alleys and main roads of Benghazi, their arms resting on the handlebars.
Spectators watch or film and honk the car drivers contributing to the cacophony as they pass war-ravaged buildings.
– ‘Parades for peace’ –
The motorcycle club, which is emblazoned with a Harley-Davidson-inspired eagle, has 120 members and they are “all passionate,” says Fitouri.
It was created in 2014 on the initiative of a group of amateurs, in the midst of a second battle for control of their city, three years after the fall of long-time Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi.
Even in this time of creeping insecurity before the expulsion of the Islamist militias, members of the club staged public performances.
Before the revolt that ended more than four decades of dictatorship, bikers were “marginalized” members of Benghazi society, explains Fakhri Mustapha al-Hassi, vice-president of the club.
“But that image has changed,” says Hassi, a living character wearing a leather vest and black bandana.
“Now families and children come to have their pictures taken with us. “
Members of the club also fundraise for charity, organize “peace parades” and take part in official functions, such as a recent tribute to Omar al-Mokhtar, a hero of Libya’s resistance to the Italian occupation at the beginning of the 20th century.
During Ramadan, bikers distributed snacks and drinks to late motorists for “iftar,” the meal that breaks the daily dawn-to-dusk fast of the Muslim holy month that ended this week.
All this “gives a good image” of the country, declares the president of the Fitouri club.
© 2021 AFP