Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Libya, waving their arms, shouting and singing as fireworks blasted in the skies. Gone were the monochromatic green flags of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, instead, in the hands of most citizens, were the red, black and green colours of post-Gaddafi Libya. The bold new tri-coloured flag, which features a white crescent moon and star in the centre, is, in effect, the symbol of a bold, new Libya. Only one year after the bogeyman himself, the now deceased Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, initiated a bloody crackdown against his own people which left more than 200 dead in a single day in Benghazi on 20 February 2012, Libyans are now enjoying something they have not experienced in nearly half a century: freedom.
Despite all of the naysayers who claimed that Libya would completely collapse in the wake of the conflict, the celebrations in Tripoli and Benghazi on 17 February 2012, which marked the one year anniversary of the start of the Libyan uprising, came and passed largely without a hitch. Security guards arming checkpoints in Gargaresh Road Tripoli, for the first time, looked more like members of a proper national army, donning matching uniforms and berets, whilst only a few armed ex-rebel fighters were reported to have wandered amongst the crowds in the capital – both positive signs for a country in the midst of a democratic transition.
For some, this positive news may come a s a complete surprise. This is a country, after all, where gun battles between rival militias can be heard almost every night in Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi. This is also a country where thousands of Libyans appear to be growing frustrated with the direction of the National Transitional Council (NTC), an unelected interim government, which many perceive as reluctant to tackle key issues or speak directly to the public on decisions that it makes. Despite these headaches, Libyans are by and large prepared to wait for change – they have done so for decades. Nevertheless, beyond the smiling faces of a newly liberated people, there is still an undercurrent of anxiety. Libyans know that tribal clashes and battles between militias will happen again, and that the ghost of Gaddafi still looms in the background, a point noted recently when Abdullah Al-Senussi, the former head of the Libyan Intelligence Service under Gaddafi, vowed to avenge the dictator’s death and restore “legitimacy” to the Libyan state. Meanwhile, Saadi Gaddafi, who still remains in Niger despite calls from the NTC to extradite him back to his home country, has warned of an imminent uprising in Libya. Along with the fear of pro-Gaddafi forces seeking to reassert themselves, are rising concerns among Libyans that other state actors are becoming far too influential in their own country. Although Libyans remain largely grateful to NATO countries such as France, the UK, the US and Italy, all of whom played a huge part in helping to topple Gaddafi, Libyans know all too well that these countries are also seeking to gain financially from their military assistance, and many perceive Western oil companies as behemoths attempting to siphon the resource-rich country’s oil supplies. However, perhaps most frightening for Libyans, is the stamp made by Qatar, a country which seems to be spreading its roots in almost all corners of the Maghreb. Qatar has been blamed for backing hard-line Islamic forces within the government, whilst engaging in backdoor deals that see its companies gain economic advantages at the expenses of Libyans. Additionally, there are complaints that the NTC is not doing enough to address the growing joblessness facing the country. In Misrata, for example, although shops and schools have reopened, unemployment is rampant and tens of thousands of armed jobless rebel fighters, known locally as “thuwwar” are still operating in brigades. Many of the younger rebel fighters, bored and without any source of income, sporadically block the main roads of the city with missile-laden trucks and have been engaging in races with other drivers. In Benghazi, thousands of men are also still unemployed, a sad fact for a city that was recently declared by the NTC to be the country’s “economic capital”.
These issues, along with numerous others, still plague the minds of many Libyans as they prepare to commemorate all of those who died for the fledgling democratic country only year ago on 20 February 2011. And with legislative elections set for 23 June 2012, the days ahead will only test the patience of the Libyan people even further. If the NTC fails to step down and make the successful transition to an elected body, the masses know how to organise a revolution, and as such, they may not hesitate to do so again. Only one thing is clear, however, the future is up for grabs, and only Libyans can decide their fate. For now, it appears that the people are simply happy to just happy to celebrate and revel in the accomplishments of the new Libya.
The Inkerman Group is constantly monitoring the ever-changing situation in Libya. For more information and to see photos of the Inkerman Group on the ground in Libya, please see our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/TheInkermanGroup or Twitter feed at: http://twitter.com/#!/inkermangroup.
(Image: The Inkerman Group)