Declan Hayes: Dog-eared Lonely Planet guide to Libya

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Hello, Lonely Planet Libya, 2022 edition. Your book cover is simply entitled Libya and beneath your enchanting picture of sand dunes reads: Romantic ruins, golden sands, medieval medinas. Count me in. Your back cover promises an array of delights, major Greek and Roman sites, helpful Arabic phrases and, as you are endorsed by Outside (USA) saying “As usual the guidebook standard is set by Lonely Planet”, it is time to pack my bags and sip at Libya’s well for a while.

We shouldn’t, of course, judge a book solely by its cover. The book begins with a coloured map of Libya which shows, not the land held by the various warring factions but such tourist sites as Jubari Lakes, Jebel Acacus, Cyrene & Apollonia, Sabratha, Tobruk and Benghazi. Enraptured though I might be with such gems, I would be much more interested in knowing where today’s equivalent of Montgomery’s 8th Army and Rommel’s Afrika Corps are, and how I might avoid ending up being sold at one of Libya’s thriving slave markets. I do have other commitments and being chopped up in Libya for spare parts would put paid to all that.

Turning to dangers & annoyances (PP73/4), the book informs us that “Contrary to what media reports may have told you, Libya is a very safe country in whch to travel” and that gay, lesbian travellers, together with women, senior citizens and childen have nothing to fear.

Flicking back to the section on religion, which gives a rough sketch of the 4% of Libyans who are not Sunni Muslims, the author goes into a long and spurious spiel about mosques and the Prophet Mohammad and not does not devote even a solitary line to the current dangers lurking in Libya as a consequence of the Wars of the Arab Spring.

Page 48 tells us to practice “responsible tourism”, to respect local customs, faiths and traditions even though “Libya is one of the region’s more liberal and tolerant societies”. The book warns tourists not to talk about Libya’s violations of human rights’ conventions, even though “Libya’s human rights situation has improved”.

For those of us trying to do Libya on the cheap, Lonely Planet warns that “people who do choose to hitch” should do so in pairs and women should never hitch alone. Camping, however, is “generally not a problem, if you pitch a tent on a patch of open ground”.

The hotels “in the seedy areas of town, around the bus stations …are often noisy, dirty and sometimes even filled by customers who pay by the hour”. These are not good enough for Lonely Planet which recommends classier joints.

Spectator sports seem to be few and far between with Libya lagging very far behind other Maghrebi countries when it comes to football. That said, page 80 informs us that “Colonel Gadaffi’s son, As-Sa’adi al-Gadaffi, is the ambitious captain of both al-Ahly and the Libyan national team”.

There is a problem there in that As-Sa’di’s football career ended in 2007, after which he commanded Libya’s Special Forces, partook in the Libyan Civil War, was captured, tortured and released to Turkey in 2021, some 14 years after he hung up his boots and a year before this Lonely Planet book was released.

Not only is none of that covered in this book, which is not only hopelessly out of date, but dangerously and perhaps, even criminally so. Although opinions may differ on that, as Anthony Ham, the author “worked as a refugee lawyer for three years, during which time the people of the world came to visit him in his office”, he should on no account have put his name to this screed in its current format. Although we can snigger and scoff at how hopelessly outdated this tome is, one must wonder what other mis-information outlets like Lonely Planet are promulgating and who are suffering in ways we daren’t contemplate as a consequence.


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