I’m a Ph.D. candidate in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley doing field research on the uprisings of the 2011 Arab Spring. I arrived in Libya on March 15, and left on April 18. My observations are based on interviews (mostly with ordinary Libyans, and occasionally with officials from the interim revolutionary government) and ethnography.

What caused the Libyan revolution of 2011? This is the “big question” that motivates my research. At one level, the answers are simple. The Qaddafi regime has been in power for four decades. Most Libyans are tired of its oppression, and of the way it channels economic resources and opportunities to Qaddafi loyalists. With Tunisia and Egypt as inspiration, young, Facebook-using Libyans organized peaceful demonstrations on February 17. After the regime responded with bullets, a revolution began.

That’s the straightforward narrative. It is, I believe, correct. But it doesn’t tell the full story. Many people around the world live under oppressive and corrupt governments, but most of them don’t launch revolutions. Moreover, it’s one thing to protest — as people are doing across the Arab world this year — but it’s quite another to mobilize an armed revolution against a government that has had an iron grip on power for 41 years, with tens of thousands putting their lives at risk.

Why has the Libyan revolution of 2011 has unfolded the way it has? Why now? What concerns do ordinary Libyans have? How do they see the world? Who are the people willing to put their lives on the line to get rid of Qaddafi? Why do some Libyans remain loyal to the Qaddafi government? And what factors might determine whether this revolt succeeds? To answer such questions, we need a textured understanding of Libyan society in 2011, and of the way revolutions happen in the age of Facebook, satellite TV, and mass media. That’s why I’m here.

My observations about Libya are also informed by comparisons with the uprisings in Egypt (I was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square February 1 – 10) and Bahrain (I was in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout February 24-28) — and with the uprisings across the rest of the region. Needless to say, other revolutions throughout modern history also form a backdrop to the way I think about the Libyan revolution.

A couple of methodological notes: Any names you see in this blog (besides mine and those of foreign journalists or other public figures) have been changed. Sometimes I’ve also changed ages by a year or two, to protect my interviewees and interlocutors in the event that Qaddafi loyalists take back eastern Libya. I have also left out my interviewees’ occupations and ages entirely on many occasions — both for their future safety and because I haven’t had time to go back through all my notes and sort them out yet before updating the blog.

All comments and suggestions are welcome.

  1. Lee Tucker says:

    RYAN! You’re in LIbya! I’m kinda jealous…
    I want to subscribe to your blog, but I can’t figure out how other than by leaving this comment and checking “subscribe to this site by email”.
    Looking forward to reading! And you stay safe!
    Btw, I am working for a group that may be reaching out to some partners in Libya, so I’d like to keep in touch, as you are a reliable and trusted contact on the ground there…

  2. Susanne says:

    Ryan – I just came across this blog – excellent work. I’m in Benghazi doing research as well – we must meet. My email is tarkowski.wsc@gmail.com please get in touch.

  3. Fr. says:

    Excellent work, Ryan, but I would highly recommend going a step further and blurring faces on the pictures.

  4. Scott Calder says:

    Ryan, you are amazing!

  5. Mark says:

    You need to tag your posts so people can more easily find your site.

  6. saifa says:

    awesome man.

  7. christinA eijkhout says:

    I am very curious why you withdraw the entry about the photographers.
    I also like to say that your blog is interesting to read, it offers many things to think.

  8. David says:

    An accordion war, very much like the North Africa Campaign of WW2 — same factors, war materials and space.

  9. Hi Ryan,

    I’m a reporter at The Daily Californian who came across your blog, and would love to write a story about you and the work you’re doing in Libya.

    I know there’s a vast time difference, but if you could email me or communicate as soon as you can, that would be wonderful!

    Thanks so much; I look forward to talking to you soon.

    Noor Al-Samarrai
    The Daily Californian

  10. Elodie Auffray says:


    I am also a journalist, french journalist (Libération.fr), and as my colleague from the Daily Californian, I’m interested in your story and observations on the ground.

    My email: elodiie3@yahoo.fr

    All the best,

    Elodie Auffray

  11. Dave Davidson says:

    It’s a fantastic blog Ryan that lets us see real Libyans.
    Most journalism now is stripped back to the ‘facts’ – who holds what territory when, who is dead and who is alive, whose allegiances are currently with who – it is very gratifying to see what it’s like for the people who actually have it on the line.

    First cab off the rank for any propagandist (on either side) worth his pay scale is to dehumanize the population into stereotypes, factions and caricatures before they take decisions for them in their interests rather than in Libyans. There is a war in played out through the media in parallel with the ground war that will have decisive results for the outcome in Libya.

    Your blog is a frontline defence against those who shoot with weasel words.
    Well done.

  12. Joshua Kanter says:

    Monkeyshitballs dude! What part of “academic” don’t you understand?!! Be safe, come back to us in one piece. I may not have seen you in 20 years, but I still expect you to marry my little sister…. Seriously, be careful.

    — Josh

  13. Hi Ryan — excellent work you’re doing. Please contact me. I’m wondering what happened to the Orientalist post you had up that you apparently removed. I was just about to link to it but couldn’t. Paul Woodward

  14. Jonny Spendlove says:

    You’re the man Ryan. This blog is far more captivating than anything I’ve seen on CNN or Google News. I have already forwarded the link on to all of my buddies. Be safe out there.

  15. Florence BeGole says:

    Your blog is very insightful and interesting. Is your dissertation going to be based on the Arab spring? If so, how can we get a copy to read it?
    stay safe~

  16. Matthew Stiffler says:

    Ryan, Great stuff here. Zack has been keeping me updated on your exploits. Hope all is well and keep up the good work!

  17. Jan Eggert says:

    Hey Ryan,
    it´s been a while…!
    Great work, buddy! Didn´t know you´ve made your way to Berkeley – that´s fantastic! Go Bears!!
    Jan (PHS ´95)

  18. katie wepplo says:

    no way it’s Ryan Calder! ironically i get sent a link to your blog (by none other than katie ruddy) in the course of a “what ever happened to…” conversation. be safe and keep up the great work! katie

  19. Carolina says:

    Great stories, Ryan.

  20. Ingolfur Shahin says:

    Wonderful blog! Is there a chance you could find time for a phone-interview with Icelandic radio ? The reporter´s name is Frosti Logason and it is the most popular radio talk-show in Iceland. Please email me if possible. Thank you and good luck with everything.

  21. Enos says:

    Dear Ph.D. candidate whatever, your one-sided-view is biased.
    You make for a good rebel propagandist, it could be that you are a good man in good faith, but as a sociology expert you suck big time.

    Take a look at rebel extremists chopping Gaddafi militia in pieces on YouTube, beating them up, kicking them while unconscious and finally executing them without trial – you are missing something, aren’t you? My two year old cousin would do a better yob than you.

    Regards from Italy.

    • ryanmcalder says:

      Thanks for your comments, and for reading. May I ask your full name?

      I will be the first to admit that I’ve only been able to witness and report on one side of the conflict. I haven’t been able to interview any Gaddafi supporters or members of Gaddafi’s militias. I’ve done my best to report some of what I’ve seen, and conversations with people I’ve been able to speak to, but this has only been in opposition-held territory. So when you write that I’m “missing something,” you’re right.

      There are, however, journalists based in Tripoli who have been reporting from there. You might consider checking out some of their work if you haven’t yet done so.

      Feel free to post the YouTube link you mention. I would not be surprised at all to learn that there have been cases of human-rights violations by rebel forces. There remains a level of paranoia in opposition-held areas, especially about the Revolutionary Committees and other remnants of the ancien regime. This paranoia may prove to be a problem in a post-Gaddafi Libya. Or it may not. It’s hard to say.

      I do not consider myself an advocate for the opposition government. They have done some things well, and some things poorly. Can you point specifically to those places where you feel I have been a propagandist? It would be easier to discuss them if I knew which ones you were talking about.

      Anyway, I welcome the chance for a discussion on these topics. I realize how complicated the situation in Libya is, and how there are no simple answers to many questions — especially the question of foreign intervention. It does seem odd to bring your two-year old cousin into this, however. The issues in question arouse intense passions — I’ve witnessed some myself — but the way you frame your comments makes it difficult to understand what part of my writing you feel is misleading.

      Ryan Calder

  22. Enos says:

    You ask for my full name. It’s John F. Kennedy. But mind, “any names you see in this blog have been changed”.
    OK, no kidding… Enos is my real name, as stated before.

    If you have “done your best to report some of what you’ve seen”, you are conscious of not having reported everything. Why then give a biased view? Why legitimate a foreign military intervention by depicting crows as hummingbirds, paving the way for them to seize weapons and power and do as they please? I am quite sure you would not need to interview a Gaddafi supporter to see this stuff in Benghasi:

    etc etc

    I do have heard from journalists in Tripoli. Everything’s calm there, apart from demonstrations in favor of Gaddafi. Don’t think I totally support him, although I sympathize for someone who has been the target of so much fake propaganda. I just support truth and humanity, things which are totally opposite to what the UN and you yourself are legitimating – whether consciously or not.

    I sincerely hope I should not call you Mr. Alden Pyle. Please try your best to be objective.

    Regards from Italy.

  23. Jennyfer Bran says:

    Hi Ryan, it’s been a long time! I saw a link to your blog on facebook…Stay safe!

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  73. Sarah El Khier says:

    Mr Ryan Calder
    As I was browsing the web I came across your blog. I’m a St Columba year 12 student (Australia, South Australia) as part of my research project I’m currently researching the consequences that international regimes and technologies have on the political, economic and social structure in Libya? Your website has supported my research, it gave me an insight into how it felt to be in Libya during the period of the revolution and the capture of President Gadaffi. Prior to starting my research I was in favour of the Gaddafi government system and sympathized with the situation Libya is now in after his death. I believed that his ways of governing was logical and appropriate thus providing the best lifestyles for the Libyan people. However as I began investigating and research the cause of the revolution I learned and still learning the political issues that were occurring during the period of 2010-2011 beginning of the revolution and uprising by the rebels aided by America and other western allies.

    I’m aware of the length that the Gaddafi regime has been in power and how the Libyan people were growing tired of its repression and cruelty especially to those who live in the country sides. I believe your observations based on interviews you have conducted in Libya will aid my research in fathoming the foundation and opinions of ordinary Libyans and some officials from the interim revolutionary government. I believe that there are numerous international human rights regimes which (inadvertently) encourage governments to shift from overt to covert forms of human rights abuse. The consequence is that countries, in particular developing countries in the Middle East, are progressively losing their individual identities, rights, and obligations through US intervention due to ‘foreign policy’, in the wake of external impositions.

    I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer the following questions from your experience and maybe correcting or elaborating on what I have stated above. All of the answers or information you provide will be kept confidential and private.

    Do you give permission for me to use your responses to aid in my research?
    1. Do you believe the Gaddafi government was corrupt? And how? (From your observations were there still Libyans that vocalized their loyalty to the Gaddafi government.
    2. Do you think the revolution is a success, what factors make the revolution a success?
    3. Has social networking or mass media aid in spreading the word to the people, how effective was social media to the Libyan uprising.
    4. Do you believe that Muamar Al Gaddafi was a good leader?
    5. Do you believe that Gaddafi was killed for gold-for-oil, the US supplying arms to al-Qaeda rebel army to succeed on the ground, whilst they (NATO allies) engage in regime change and the gradual private takeover of Libya’s economy?

    Yours Sincerely

    Sarah El khier

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