With Gaddafi dead, Libyans wary of the enemy within

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 25, 2011 5:57 PM
With Gaddafi dead, Libyans wary of the enemy within

By Maria Golovnina

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - As fireworks celebrating Muammar Gaddafi's death light up Tripoli's central square, party-goer Hani Nuwara has already set his sights on his next target, with fears that traditional tribal rivalries will become the enemy within.

For eight months Libyans across the country put aside their complex tribal and cultural divisions to fight for a common good but many are concerned that the ousting of Gaddafi will re-ignite these rivalries and mar the path to democracy.

Nuwara, 24, from a respected Tripoli clan, was already angered that rebels from Misrata took the bodies of Gaddafi and his son Mo'tassim to their city for public viewing and have claimed the major role in the rebels' victory.

"Misratans. We hate them. We don't want any of them here," he repeated angrily in Tripoli's central square during celebrations to mark Libya's new-found freedom.

"They think they fought hard. They say 'we made this revolution'. They make me nervous. We also fought hard. We also suffered. The revolution is ours."

Historic rivalries among Libyan cities such as Tripoli on the western coastline, the port city of Misrata, and Benghazi in the east, were kept in check under Gaddafi's iron-fist rule.

Political risk consultancy Stratfor estimates that Libya has up to 140 tribes but only 30 have any particular significance and ubiquitous hatred for Gaddafi united Libya's factitious population during the battle to oust the despot after 42 years.

But with the dictator gone, some wonder how Libya's 6 million people, scattered thinly across the vast desert country and long plagued by regional and tribal rivalries, will remain in agreement to face the daunting challenge of nation building.

"The prospect of increased friction or violent conflict between the country's tribes, clans and ethnic groups (specifically between the Arabs and Berbers) remains a serious source of concern," risk consultancy Maplecroft said in a report released in August.

Euphoria over Gaddafi's death on October 20 was already giving way to new anxieties and frictions, and, behind the façade of celebration and fireworks, many Libyans are worried about the future while others are optimistic differences can be resolved.

"Everyone is happy now but of course there is uncertainty. Before it was even worse. If we fail, it would be only our fault," said Abdelaziz Massoud, an engineer from Libya's biggest tribe of Warfalla, who now lives in Tripoli.

"Before we blamed everything on Gaddafi, it was easy. Now we can only blame ourselves."


Now Libya has been declared free, its new leaders have a month to create an all-inclusive government and work out how to hold a democratic election -- a crucial period to define whether Libya can remain stable and unified in coming years.

It is not an easy task for a thinly populated country that was only united in the 1930s under Italian colonial rule.

Alongside regional enmities there are differences between Islamists and secularists, and ethnic tensions between Arabs and North Africa's indigenous Berbers.

The immediate tensions after Gaddafi's downfall was friction between rebels from different cities.

Misrata rebels, who suffered heavy casualties inflicted by Gaddafi forces, are claiming credit for the uprising and want special recognition.

That has infuriated Libyans elsewhere in the country who believe they also suffered during the war. Benghazi, Libya's second largest city and the seat of the revolt that began in February, says it has played an equally important role.

Some, like Nuwara in Tripoli, are openly belligerent.

"If we wanted, we could take Misrata in three hours," he said, as his friends nodded in agreement. "There are 2 million of us here in Tripoli, Misrata is tiny. Misrata is nothing."

The interim government's decision to make the official announcement of liberation on Sunday in Benghazi - Tripoli's long-standing rival in Libyan tribal politics that can be traced back to before the Romans - added to people's bitterness.

"Tripoli is the capital. All the official celebrations, all the government officials should be here by now, not anywhere else," said Samira Massoudi, 49, a bespectacled mathematics teacher.

Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) has already moved some of its operations to Tripoli but remains based in Benghazi.

It says it will move to Tripoli properly soon, citing lingering logistical and security considerations. Just days ago, clashes erupted in Tripoli between remnants of Gaddafi forces and NTC troops.

Tripoli is the most cosmopolitan city in Libya where tribes and cultures have long coexisted more or less happily side by side - a valuable unifying element for the country.

Here, too, people tried to rise up against Gaddafi in February but their repeated attempts were brutally quashed by the proximity of Gaddafi's security apparatus headquartered in Tripoli with reminders of these deaths on public display.

The streets of Tajoura, a small, sandy town on the eastern edge of Tripoli, are lined by portraits of dozens of people killed during those early protests.

Only weeks ago Tajoura, with its winding streets and aging palm trees, was still in the tight grip of Gaddafi's rule, its residents too frightened to venture outside.

Days after Gaddafi's death, it was carnival time. Tajoura was alive with crowds of smiling families and the smell of barbeques and fresh coffee replaced gunfire and burning tires.

Holding her wailing baby tight, Fatima Suweisi, 38, said: "My little Mohaned will never see Gaddafi's face in his life. He will grow up in a new Libya."

Quietly, life is returning to normal even as the nightly parties go on in Tajoura and elsewhere.

As people danced and watched fireworks in Tripoli on Sunday night, street sweepers could be seen quietly cleaning street corners. Soldiers stuck flowers into the muzzles of their rifles.

"It's time to work hard and make changes," said 17-year-old Khalifa Milud, who had studied in Britain for seven years. "I am not going back to the UK, now it's time to be here. We will make Libya at least like Dubai. We have a lot of money."

His friend, Abdallah, his face illuminated by the green and yellow of the deafening fireworks, shouted: "We are going to rebuild Libya. We are ready. God is greatest."

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)