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Inside Libya's failed revolution

The 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi left Libya at the mercy of warring militias and in the grip of an African refugee crisis.
Spencer Chumbley/VICE News

TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya is in chaos. Rival governments compete for power, human smuggling is rampant, and black markets thrive for everything from oil to hard currency. The international community is backing the Government of National Accord, which maintains a tenuous hold on the capital.

But the government’s survival depends on warring militias, many of which are paid to police the smuggling they themselves are involved in.


A great number of Libyans blame Western powers for toppling Muammar Gaddafi back in 2011 without fully considering the alternatives. Several men told us that if the revolution were to happen now, they'd fight for rather than against the dictator.

This week on VICE on HBO, correspondent Isobel Yeung heads to the war-torn country to see how the revolution fell apart.

Before the episode airs Friday April 20 at 7:30PM and 11PM on HBO, Isobel shared some insights and photos from her report.

The day we arrived in Tripoli, there was a protest taking place in Martyrs' Square. Thousands turned up and passionately relayed to us a long list of grievances they had with the state of their country. They told us how Libya had descended into total chaos since 2011, with three governments and thousands of tribal militias all vying for power. The internationally-backed Government of National Accord was on high alert and eventually separated the crowds by flooding the square with vehicles and security personnel. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

Inside what I assume is the nicest detention center in Tripoli, the only one they allowed us to film. It was still overcrowded and stuffy, but not as bad as I imagine it could be. We spoke with several migrants, including softly spoken Khaled Kali from Morocco, who told us that he'd been trying to reach his wife and unborn baby in France when he was captured by the coastguards and brought here. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

In the smuggling epicenter Sabratha, we accompanied a militia group as they fought for control over smuggling routes. It was a Mad Max style war: large tactical vehicles raced through Roman ruins, topless men with gold teeth and flip-flops fired rocket-propelled grenades from makeshift front lines. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

Interviewing the militia leader Abd al-Rahman Milad by his sweet ride. Milad (also known as 'Bija') was shot nine times during the revolution and told us he spent two years in a coma. As if back from the dead, we watched him fight fiercely for power in Sabratha. He later took us to his private horse ranch, where his mother cooked us camel meat. After the release of our initial story on VICE News Tonight, a warrant was issued for Bija's arrest. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

The 19 year-old driving this truck had piercing eyes, but was too shy to talk on camera. He spoke in vague terms about fighting for a revolution that was stolen from them, and about all his friends and brothers signing up for battle, of quitting school early and of being unable to imagine a life without war. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

It was surreal to be in this beautiful beachside town, with fishing boats bobbing along in the turquoise waters nearby us. It was like a cliche postcard. Except these men were firing at each other from just a few meters apart. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

African migrants in the coastal town of Zawiya, who had been rounded up by the Libyan coastguards as they were attempting to cross the Mediterranean for Europe. Here they were waiting to be sent to various detention centers across the country. We witnessed the militias acting as coastguards threatening migrants with their lives. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

On board the Libyan coastguard boat as they rescued migrants who were stranded in the ocean in clonked-out rubber dinghies. This was part of the $235 million EU-Libya deal that pays the Libyan government to divert migrants away from Europe and back to Libya. There were about 150 people crammed onto each boat. Babies were screaming; people were dry-heaving and a couple of women and children had passed out from dehydration. A 74 year-old Syrian man with terminal skin cancer told us he wished he'd died before making this journey. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

Hoping to be saved by the Italians and taken to Italy, it was heartbreaking to see these migrants' faces turn from relief to sheer horror as they were pulled to “safety” from Libyan coastguards. It was a long five-hour journey back to port, where they mostly sat in silence and stared at the ocean. On arriving in Tripoli, they obediently peeled off the boat and lined up in single file, separated by gender, age and nationality. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

The boats were comprised of West Africans on one boat and Syrians, Moroccans and Egyptians on another. Few knew how to swim and there was a storm rolling in just after they were rescued. (Photo: Spencer Chumbley/VICE News)

VICE on HBO airs Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. on HBO