News / Africa

Libyan Rebels Struggle to Cope With Shortages

A Libyan boy carries water in a wheel barrow in Tripoli. Water has been cut off throughout the city, August 26, 2011
A Libyan boy carries water in a wheel barrow in Tripoli. Water has been cut off throughout the city, August 26, 2011

As residents of the Libyan capital faced another day without running water or electricity, a rebel official vowed to make this "difficult period" as short as possible.  

The Transitional National Council's information minister, Mahmoud Shammam was blunt, telling the people of Tripoli, "Don't expect a miracle."

Shammam says the TNC is working on distributing fuel and water and that a system is in place for supplying hospitals with medicine and other basic needs.  But he says the conditions they are working under are tough.

”We [have had] just a few days of liberation in Tripoli," said Shammam.  "Tripoli was under the tight control of a dictatorship for 42 years.  You understand that we are lacking a lot of institutions.  We are lacking a lot of civil societies.  So we are starting almost from zero point in this situation.”

For residents of the capital, who awoke Saturday to the sounds of roosters and occasional gunfire, the struggle to find the basics of life is proving daunting.

A middle-aged man in the center of Tripoli blamed long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi for the lack of water, accusing his forces of sabotaging pumps. The man explains that some people have wells, and that they're sharing water with others.

Like many in Tripoli, he's willing to put up with the hardships if it means Gadhafi is gone.  

Gone, perhaps, but to where is the question.  Rebel forces continued to advance on the besieged leader's hometown of Sirte. The opposition says it hopes to gain control of the city within days.

In Tripoli, rebels opened to the public Saturday residences used by the self-described “Brother-Leader” and other Gadhafi family members.  Libyans saw that relatives of the man who traveled the world in a tent enjoyed indoor swimming pools and luxurious baths at home.

The sight was a reminder for those sympathetic to the rebel cause what their fight was about - a man completely at odds with his people - even as the TNC has to establish a new civil and administrative order.

But the rapid denouement of six months of conflict have raised questions about the council's ability to unite the nation's various regional, tribal and religious factions.   Tripoli-based political analyst Peter Cole says those fault lines are less important right now than the issue of competence.

”It’s actually going to be about who can get the show up and running," he said. "And if something goes wrong, then you’re going to see factions and divisions and arguments, and then these are going to be retrospectively labeled as such.”   

To be successful, Cole adds, the rebels must keep the sense of unity that brought their revolution this far, and turn it into basic administration skills and a functional bureaucracy.

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