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Divisions in Libya put aside, for now

Libyans celebrate two years since the start of the revolution that ousted Gaddafi, amid challenges and divisions.
Last modified: 16 Feb 2013 15:07

"There are no words that can describe our happiness" was what a group of women told me. They didn't need to explain.

The euphoria was evident.

The Libyan capital, Tripoli, was in a mood to party days before they commemorate the second anniversary of the start of the uprising that led to the overthrow of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

"Every day is a holiday since we got rid of the regime," Abdel Raouf Bin Sleiman, a resident of Fashloum neighborhood, said.

Two years ago, there were no celebrations here. Fashloum was the scene of fighting and a failed uprising until rebel fighters stormed the capital six months later.

This city is in a festive mood but Tripoli is also witnessing extraordinary security measures with checkpoints set up in major intersections and around government buildings as well as embassies.

"We are not afraid but this is a precautionary move," Mohammed Abdullah Swuisi, head of the Supreme Security Committees, explained.

Security concerns

The run-up to the celebrations had been overshadowed by concern that violence may break out. A call for protests against the government was made on social media websites. But they didn't materialise.

"I support protests because citizens have demands from the government. But it must be done peacefully and in an organized manner. I am not sure who was behind the call for protest action on February 15. It wasn't the right timing," said Ahmed al Rayes, a businessman from Benghazi who is frustrated about making the long journey to Tripoli for transactions.

Like many in Benghazi, Ahmed wants greater economic and political powers for the east - a region long marginalised under the Gaddafi regime.

"I support a decentralised state and the government should provide more services and security."

The central authorities are being blamed by many - particularly those who live in the east and south of Libya - for failing to exert its authority and speed up the pace of reform, development and security outside Tripoli.

Relatively safe

Tripoli is considered to be relatively safe. There is concern, however, about the porous southern borders and the rise of armed groups in the east where there have been attacks against Western and government interests.

But authorities are playing down the threat.

"We came up with a security plan after some western countries said there is a threat against their nationals here. There is no evidence of that. We are capable of protecting Libyans and foreigners," Swuisi said.

The show of force was as much a message to the international community as it was to its critics. It is important for Libya to attract investment and ongoing incidents of violence have scared foreigners.

The government, however, blames supporters of the former regime for trying to destabilise the country.

While there may be some truth to that, there is also a reality on the ground.

'Two armies'

Libya is awash with weapons and there are powerful armed groups which are still refusing to be absorbed into state institutions.

"Yes the government needs to do more," Sadat Elbadri, the head of Tripoli Local Council, said.

"They need to start long-term development plans but we have to remember that Libya didn't have institutions.

"We are building everything from scratch. We need to create jobs for the youth and you will see how many will give up their weapons."

But Elbadri did acknowledge power struggles among officials.

"I can't understand the rift between the army chief of staff and the Minister of Defence," ElBadri said.

"They aren't working together. Libya has two armies."

Still in transition

Libya is still in transition from years of autocratic rule. There is still no constitution and until there is consensus on how power and resources - particularly oil - are shared, loyalty to the state may be questionable.

"It is worth insisting that many difficult decisions have yet to be taken in the areas of constitution-making, transitional justice, reconciliation and, it goes without saying, security sector reform," Tarek Mitri, head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), said.

Undoubtedly, there are challenges ahead. There are those who are willing to give the government more time.

Others believe the "revolution" is not over and they want to keep pressuring the authorities until all their demands are met.

The new Libya as a nation is still being shaped.

There are divisions in post-conflict Libya but for people here, February 17 is a day when those differences should be put aside.