Qarabuli (Libya) (AFP) – With the engines throbbing, young Libyans battle it out among the sand dunes, not with Humvee-style fighting vehicles but brightly coloured and sporty four-wheel drives.
In a weekly escape from the violence gripping their country, they converge every Friday — the Muslim weekend — for races in Qarabuli on the Mediterranean coast, 60 kilometres (35 miles) east of Tripoli.
The type of powerful all-terrain vehicles they race up to the top of the dunes were reserved only for the military and regime elite in the days of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
“After the events of 2011, the market was opened to everybody,” said one of the organisers, Ahmed Abdelkader Atiga, referring to the revolt which swept away Kadhafi’s regime and since when Libya has been mired in chaos.
“Young people started buying four-by-fours,” said Atiga, a radio talk show host.
“This place has become a meeting place for young Libyans who come from several towns every Friday. It’s a good image which gives hope of resolving differences and saving lives.”
Hundreds of motorsport enthusiasts also gather at Qarabuli as spectators, away from the stress and daily uncertainty of life in post-Kadhafi Libya, where rival militias and political administrations are locked in a deadly struggle for dominance.
Jihadists from the Islamic State group have also gained a foothold in the oil-rich North African country, feeding on the political breakdown and lawlessness.
Since October alone, more than 3,000 lives have been lost in fighting, according to Libya Body Count, an independent group which collates data from different sources.
Libya has also been in the news for the African migrants seeking a new life in Europe and left at the mercy of people smugglers exploiting the chaos to ply their lucrative trade with unseaworthy boats leaving from its shores.
– ‘A Libya of coexistence’ –
But away from the fighting and the misery of the migrants, four-wheel drives have flooded the market and adrenaline-driven young Libyans hungry for excitement are leading the charge.
Shortly before sunset, spraying sand into the air and with tyres screeching, dozens of drivers in red, green and yellow vehicles, many of them open top, scramble to make it in a race to the top of a steep dune.
“King of the Roads”, “Youths of Libya” and “Fireball” read stickers on the cars, some flying the Libyan flag.
It’s a test of manoeuvering and driving skills to prevent the wheels being buried in the sand, rather than speed alone, that determines the winners.
Some are forced to give up, while others keep trying again and again, spurred on by wild cheers from the crowd.
“We stop down at the beach before coming over for the races to encourage these young people,” said Mohamed, a dentist who has been attending for the past two years.
“We want to help these youths to overcome the challenge. Every time I come, it’s like the first time for me,” he said, beaming.
The two-hour event is rounded off with a three-kilometre (two-mile) rally along the seafront for allcomers.
“These weekly meetings give a different image from what the television stations show of the situation in Libya,” said Atiga. “It’s one of a Libya free of tensions, one of coexistence and joy.”
The cars then drive in convoy for several kilometres (miles) offroad until they reach the highway, before separating and returning to the reality of militia checkpoints and risks of carjackings on their way home.