Lybia's tourism minister, elections in the Northern Cyprus and Mumbai puts women on traffic lights.
When you’re the tourism minister for a country at war, perhaps it’s inevitable that the role becomes one more like that of a mediator. Such is the case in Libya, isolated from the world for decades under Muammar Gaddafi and now the subject of headlines referring to militias and migrants caught up in the chaos that followed his ousting.
The fact that every post-Gaddafi government has included a minister for tourism is, depending on who you ask in Libya, either an act of sunny optimism or wishful thinking. For current tourism minister Khaider Basher Malik, it’s the former. He’s from Ghadames, an oasis town near the Algerian border that is one of Libya’s five Unesco World Heritage sites. He ran the town’s festival, one of Libya’s best known cultural events, for many years, steering it through the post-Gaddafi tumult.
Malik has big ideas for tourism in Libya but foreign visitors are not his priority. Instead, he sees domestic tourism as a tool that can help heal a wounded nation. He notes Libya’s vast expanse – it’s more than three times the size of France – and tiny population of six million. Most Libyans live by the Mediterranean, with smaller numbers in its interior and southern flank. “Many Libyans don’t know their own country because of our geography,” he says. “It also means that they don’t know each other as well as they should.” For the younger generation, it’s even worse. Ongoing conflicts since 2011 have made travel inside the country difficult. Airports have been destroyed or shut down. A road trip usually includes dealing with militiamen at checkpoints. “Libyan youth have seen even less of their country than my generation,” says Malik. “That feeds polarisation and prejudice.”
“We want to encourage Libyans to travel around their country in order to learn from each other and better understand each other”
He believes that domestic tourism can contribute to reconciliation. “We want to encourage Libyans to travel around their country in order to learn from each other and better understand each other.” He also wants Libyans to know about their country’s riches: its ancient Roman and Greek ruins, unspoilt Mediterranean coastline and the stark beauty of its Saharan belt. “It’s about creating awareness of their own country and instilling pride.”
Developing the domestic tourism industry will mean adapting hotels and other infrastructure to the needs of the physically impaired. Almost a decade of conflict has left thousands of Libyans maimed. Malik still believes that, some day, Libya will be stable enough to welcome foreign tourists. “The world does not know Libya,” he says. “I hope that changes in my lifetime.”
A tight race for the presidency in Northern Cyprus is set for 11 October after voting was postponed this spring – and the future of the island is at stake. Mustafa Akinci, the independent incumbent, is facing challenges from Tufan Erhurman of the left-leaning Turkish Republican party and Ersin Tatar of the right-wing National Unity party. While Akinci and Erhurman both support reunification talks with the Republic of Cyprus, Tatar has called for two states and sought stronger ties with Turkey.
Cyprus has been split along Turkish-Greek ethnic lines since the Turkish invasion of the north in 1974. But frontrunner Akinci has drawn the ire of Ankara for saying that Northern Cyprus is seeking “a sibling relationship” with Turkey, “not one of mother and child”. Whether voters agree with him will soon become clear.
Mumbai’s government is trying to signpost its intentions to make the city safer for women, installing 240 new pedestrian street-crossing signals that feature a female silhouette rather than a man. It’s an important move for India’s largest metropolis, with planning officials hoping that the frocked figures challenge unconscious gender biases and communicate that women, as well as men, belong in public.
Critics say that this is just a token act that does little to improve the wellbeing of women in a country where harassment levels are disproportionately high. But others are acknowledging that it is at least a step in the right direction.
“I wouldn’t disregard it,” says Samira Rathod, a Mumbai-based architect and founder of Spade, a journal that comments on the built environment in India. “Change has to begin somewhere. Sure, the government has to take more action but it’s a reminder that women are everywhere and that we need to start looking after them.”