He made bombs that the rebels used in their six-month revolution against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. He helped defuse explosives the deposed leader's loyalists planned to plant in civilian areas of the capital of Tripoli after his fall. But Masoud Bwisir may be most loved by his people for his guitar-playing skills. He penned the song "My Nation Will Remain Strong," which has become the national anthem for a people who have searched for new national symbols to propel their cause.
On Monday night, Tripoli residents gathered in Martyr's Square, just outside the slanting brick walls of its medieval city. It was the first time since the collapse of the Gaddafi regime that many had ventured to the large concrete lot. Tens of thousands of parents and their children waved the country's new flag and held up signs reading: "Libya Is Free of the Tyrant" and "Democracy Belongs to the People." Among the revelers were Bwisir and his comrades. The 38-year-old moved through the crowd with his guitar in one hand and his Kalashnikov in the other. Soon he was on a plywood stage as young girls in colorful headscarves were jumping and cheering. "My nation will remain strong, my nation will remain lofty, my nation will remain free," Bwisir sang as the crowd roared. "I love this man!" screamed Nusayba Sa'idi. "I heard his song on the Internet for months. Now I get to see him in front of me!" Stringing his guitar to the slow sways of the crowd, Bwisir moved into the song's English stanzas: "We don't have to fight. We know how to make freedom."
"His music is the best tool in the revolution to unite Libyans," explains Ismail Mghawi, 40, a math teacher. "We have been oppressed for so long, we don't know what joy is anymore."
Before the revolution that rocked Libya in February, Bwisir was a thriving entrepreneur who owned businesses ranging from car washes to clothing stores. In a country where capitalism was frowned upon until recently and where the state employs more than 50% of the workforce, Bwisir's prosperous enterprises made him a respected man in his hometown of Benghazi. But something was lacking in his life. "Money was not what I wanted," says the frizzy-haired 38-year-old with slightly wrinkled olive skin. "I wanted to help my people." So when a rebellion in Benghazi evolved into a revolution, Bwisir sprouted into action. He organized his friends into a miniplatoon. They first threw rocks at Gaddafi's security personnel. After locals raided their weapons compounds, he took up arms against the hated agents.
Bwisir's six-man unit soon mushroomed as others joined them. Once Benghazi fell to the rebels, they moved eastward. They pushed Gaddafi's forces from cities to the west like Ajdabiyah, gaining valuable fighting skills in the process.
Bwisir was like many who joined the battle against Gaddafi. He was an ordinary Libyan who was propelled to fight by the desire for freedom. "I was never a soldier," he says while sitting in a Tripoli apartment. "But when others started dying, I felt it my duty to protect my people."
Bwisir left his four-month pregnant wife and traveled from front to front. When the coastal city of Misratah fell to the rebels in late April, he hopped on a fishing boat and sailed for 30 hours to help its fighters lift the siege Gaddafi had imposed on it. Last week Bwisir joined a Benghazi brigade dispatched to help secure the capital after Gaddafi forces fled. Just as in other cities throughout Libya, his fighting skills and dedication to the cause won him friends and respect. "Masoud teaches us courage," says Ahmad Jabuni, 23, who recently joined a security patrol in the capital and was assigned to Bwisir's unit. "He helps us understand not only how to fight but also how to keep the people happy."
Bwisir says his musical talents are part of his arsenal. "My music is the first line of defense. We fight, sing and dance. We are educated people. Not what the world thinks." But music isn't everything.
After his impromptu performance at Martyr's Square, Bwisir descended from the stage as his fans swarmed him. When the crowd dispersed, he set down his guitar and picked up his rifle. "Libya is not secure yet. Gaddafi's men are still out there, and we have to get them," he remarked, jumping into a pickup truck full of fighters as he disappeared for his next mission.