‘You Exile them in their Own Countries’: The Everyday Politics of Reclaiming the Disappeared in Libya

Amina Zarrugh (Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX, USA)
Publication Year
Near and Middle East
Thematic Area
Families / The Search Process
Advocacy / Participation / Enforced Disappearance / Family Needs / Human Rights / Protecting/Restoring Family Links
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Located in Libya’s capital city of Tripoli, Abū Salīm Prison has become suspended in Libya’s national collective memory as the site of a contested prison killing in 1996. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the prison hosted many prisoners of conscience, namely individuals who forcibly had been disappeared because security personnel suspected them of opposing the regime of Mu’amar Qadhdhafi. Drawing on interviews with their family members, I trace how Libyan families contested the state’s violence and forced disappearance through everyday behaviors, such as inquiring about their relatives’ whereabouts and visiting Abū Salīm Prison. The article contributes to an ongoing discussion within sociology, anthropology, and area studies about the significance of small-scale acts of resistance as forms of political action. Disappearance not only pulled people apart, but also brought them together, often around the same spaces that were intended to disenfranchise them.