TRIPOLI, Libya — In coffee shops, in their homes and on the streets, Libyans bemoan the struggles for power and money that have prevented their country from developing into a secure and functioning state since rebels declared victory on Oct. 23, 2011.
Two years after the capture and death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a new saying has emerged in Libya: “Before we only had one Gaddafi, but now we have hundreds.”
As GlobalPost chatted to locals in the streets of Tripoli, all complained of the current situation, but none openly showed any love of their former ruler.
“I’m glad we got rid of Gaddafi of course, but it’s tough now,” said banker Taher Giuma. “Libya is ruled by militias who enforce their agenda on the government, but I hope it will improve in time.”
Others drew comparisons between the old regime and the new.
“There was a lot of talk during the revolution of change, but the new government do not do anything different,” said Radwan Smeda as he sat in Martyrs’ Square. “Before you couldn't say anything bad about Gaddafi. Now you can’t accuse the rebels no matter what they do. It’s the same old system. Only the faces have changed.”
While in public few admit any nostalgia for the old system, in private many speak longingly of the time before the revolution.
“I would say the majority of Libyans used to like Gaddafi, and they still like Gaddafi especially now they see the chaos,” said Majid Fituri, a 49-year-old former rebel fighter from Misrata. “But none of them can say this in public. In Gaddafi’s time we were all afraid of the regime, but now we have multiple powerful groups in Libya. Now you don’t know who could arrest you, detain you, beat you or even kill you without shame. And everything is justified by simply saying, ‘He loved Gaddafi.’”
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Across Libya there are hundreds who never wavered in their support for the eccentric and brutal leader.
In Tripoli, one shopkeeper politely refused to receive a one-dinar note on which Gaddafi’s face had been scratched away, a common practice since the beginning of the revolution. He glanced at the defaced note with sadness.
“I am sorry, do you have another? I can not accept this one,” he said. When pressed for the reason he lowered his head. “Please, can you just give me another. I don’t want trouble.”
Individuals, families and in many cases whole communities have been labeled ‘tahalib,’ meaning slime, the street term for anyone who sympathizes with the old order. Armed groups often justify brutal attacks, theft and even murder with accusations of Gaddafi ties.
“Now it’s like the Wild West. Everyone has a gun and a gang. This affects every aspect of the country,” said Fituri, the former rebel. But while others were “fed up with the chaos,” he said, he has not yet lost hope.
“A lot of people say Gaddafi’s time was better. I don’t agree, I think it is normal for chaos to follow war. It will take time, more sacrifice, more loss but in the end it will be enough.”
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Human Rights Watch recently posited the possible reasons for Libya’s current lawlessness. In an Oct. 20 dispatch, the group described mass executions carried out by Libyan rebel groups on the day of Gaddafi’s death. In the days that followed, HRW gathered hard evidence of the executions and of who was responsible, which it presented to transitional authorities shortly afterward; to date, no investigation has been carried out.
“The failure to investigate systematic executions helped set the stage for the militia lawlessness in Libya today,” wrote Fred Abrahams, special advisor to HRW's program office. “Impunity for those and subsequent crimes sent the message that Libya’s armed groups stand above the law.”
For others, the fall of Gaddafi is still an occasion to be celebrated. Each Oct. 23, Victory Day, families celebrate in the streets, waving revolutionary banners and chanting slogans of victory and freedom. In the lead up to this year’s celebrations, rebel flags hung on every street corner.
“Thank God Gaddafi is gone,” said street vendor Ali Maktah, flashing a broad smile as he prepared for a busy day in Martyrs’ Square. “It is so much better now. Now we have our freedom.”