The economics of war.
When I was in Tunisia at the height of the fighting in neighbouring Libya, I visited a private clinic. Staff – white shoes, light blue cotton trousers and tops, padding noiselessly about the cool vestibule – gave off an air of discreet affluence. Clearly, you needed money to be here.
I was there to meet a few war-wounded Libyan men who had been fighting to capture Misrata from government troops. Among them was a portly, 50-something man who had been manager of a transport company until he got the call to join up. He sent his wife and two daughters up into the mountains then he himself picked up a gun.
“We didn’t have much,” he said. “Just light weapons.” And had he ever pulled a trigger before?
He laughed: “Never. The nearest I got to a gun was seeing them in American films.”
In his hand, he held a small bit of metal: the bullet that had lodged in his eye. Here, in the private clinic, they had removed the bullet and his damaged eye-ball and replaced the latter with a glass eye.
There are other fighters in the clinic with various injuries and I asked the man from Misrata how he managed to pay for all this? “Different charities,” he told me, “in America,the Nederlands, in Canada.They pay for us.”
Earlier in the week, I had met up with Dr. Sami Hammoun, vice-dean of the Medical Faculty of the University of Sfax. “Yes,” he said,” we have a lot of wounded Libyans come to us for treatment.They are paid for by other Arab countries. Qatar is one.”
War wounded from both sides, he told me, were treated in different clinics so as to keep the belligerents apart. And these private clinics, I remarked, are they expensive?
“They are but that’s how it is. Libyans wouldn’t go to public hospitals.”