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October 20, 2013

Libya Unsettled Two Years After Gadhafi Death

by Jamie Dettmer

Libyans on Sunday marked the second anniversary of the death of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, whose killing by rebels ended the Libyan uprising against the longtime dictator.  But despite the celebratory flag-waving and fireworks, the transition from autocracy to democracy is proving harder than they expected.

Libyan celebrations are always loud affairs with fireworks, blaring patriotic music and militiamen letting off bursts of automatic gunfire, and today the young especially are pleased to party to mark the second anniversary of the death of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Nabila, a 22-year-old student, was out with friends in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square.
 
“Today means everything for Libyans, especially for me," Nabila said. "I am so happy for this day. Because everybody going his flag on her flag and going and say 'this is the revolution, this is the freedom for Libya.' ”
 
But away from scenes of mainly youthful revelry with young men and women seizing a rare chance to mingle freely, many Libyans are worried.

They knew there would be missteps and mishaps but since last year’s anniversary the country has been roiled by lawlessness. The French embassy has been bombed and other foreign missions attacked and Libya has been governed as much by unruly, self-willed revolutionary militias as by elected albeit squabbling politicians. Earlier this month, gunmen kidnapped the prime minister, if only briefly.     
The surge in drug use and crime worries Libyan journalist Ashraf Abdul Wahab.
 
“I am feeling that Libya gets crushed in a wall or something like that because there were no security at the moment," Abdul Wahab said. "And I am feeling that the government is very weak. And the government must do very good steps about the security issue in Libya.”
 
Optimism remains

But taking measures isn’t so easy. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has asked for Western assistance in training militiamen to become soldiers but in the past two years plans to set up a national army have come and gone, floundering on militia resistance. Zeidan has been able to do little in the face of a months-long blockade by militias of oilfields and seaports.  

Is it all doom and gloom? Mother-of-three Holima Elhaj says most Libyans are not in a celebratory mood. They are fearful of the rampant lawlessness and frustrated by the high cost of living, but she says there is one good thing worth noting.
 
“People are very happy they can speak freely. With the previous regime no one could say a word,” said Elhaj.  
 
Now at least they can complain but some lawmakers think Libyans should be more understanding, and patient about the pace of change, says lawmaker Mohammad Saad.

“The people they think that as we have money we can do anything quickly, that is how they think, as you have money in your pocket so you can buy anything you want,” said Saad. "For the individuals okay but for country you have to build the laws, you have to put the right people in the right position and you have to make the planning for things, it is not easy.”

On this anniversary, mixed in with the celebration, there is foreboding. Civil society activist Leila says she tries to remain confident but harbors doubts.

“We are trying to be optimistic, hopefully, maybe. But personally I am not sure,” said Leila.

Today Libyans will try to quell their worries, but in the east in Benghazi, widespread violence broke out after the assassination of a military police commander Friday,  adding to the sense of foreboding.