Youssef Ramadan Said, a Libyan rapper known by his stage name MC Swat, began rapping against Gaddafi in 2011. He then protested against extremists in Libya before being forced to flee his home country, boarding a boat to cross the Mediterranean in search of a safe future in Europe.
Music against extremism
Said told his story to UK daily The Guardian, a story made up of music in the fight against abuse. In 2011, at age 23, MC Swat recorded a track about anti-Gaddafi protests in his home city, Benghazi, titled Hadhee Thowra (This is Revolution). After the fall of the regime, the rapper spoke out against extremists and their violence in a track called Benghazistan.
MC Swat didn't take sides in the increasingly polarised conflict, which was a dangerous choice that forced him to leave Benghazi for Tripoli."No matter where I went, I felt at risk," he said. "I got many threats on social media or through intermediaries. People kept asking, 'Which side are you on?'"
In his most recent track, titled Exploitations, the rapper expresses anger against the violence and corruption of Libyan warlords. "The threats increased after that," he said.
Escape for a better life
Once Said made the decision to leave Libya, he first tried to do it legally but was unsuccessful. He then met a man in Tripoli who proposed the Mediterranean crossing. "He told me there is a special trip just for Libyans, and asked if I was interested." MC Swat paid 900 dollars to leave with other young Libyans. "They were all young guys from different parts of Libya. Some wanted to escape the militias in Tripoli, others wanted to escape the fighting in Benghazi. They were kids running for their lives, wanting a better life."
The boat used for the crossing wasn't a dinghy but an actual ship with 17 people aboard. "Wow, Libya is so messed up even MC Swat is leaving," said one of the passengers. After hours at sea, the smuggler left the vessel behind, and a passenger used a radio to call for help. The ship Aquarius, from the NGO SOS Méditerranée, rescued the passengers and brought MC Swat to Sicily with the others.
The rapper is now living in a European country he preferred not to name, where he plans to request asylum. "More and more Libyans feel there is no future in Libya for them," he said."There will be more like me even if I don't recommend people do what I did. It's difficult, and there is so much uncertainty about my future in Europe, but it is still better than being in Libya. No one can harm me here."