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LIBYA: Eid Comes With Political Celebration

TRIPOLI, Sep 1 2011 (IPS) - “Gaddafi renamed this one as the ‘Green Square’ but we have brought back its ancient name, ‘Martyrs square’,” Asma Mohamed, Tripoli resident tells IPS. Eid celebrations are being followed by the anniversary Thursday of Muammar Gaddafi coming to power 42 years ago. Celebrations of one kind have mixed with celebrations of another.

Tripoli residents celebrate Eid, and political victory. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

Tripoli residents celebrate Eid, and political victory. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

Thousands carrying the three-coloured Libyan flag have been converging on Martyrs Square for celebrations of a political kind.

A century ago, Italians would execute prisoners at this very place. Today, a puppet representing Gaddafi hangs from one of the three imposing cranes placed in Tripoli’s main square.

“This year’s is, by far, my life’s happiest Eid. I will celebrate it in real freedom for the first time,” Tripoli resident Faiz Bekhtari tells IPS. He has lost his left eye in the fighting.

“I was collecting money for the fighters in the Nafusa mountains – a rebel stronghold around 200 kilometres from Tripoli – when Gaddafi’s militiamen captured me in Geryan, my hometown,” said Bekhtari. But he says he’s ready to forgive those who kicked him on his face while he was in prison. “Eid is a time for reconciliation.”

At the northern entrance of the square, remnants from the fallen regime have been placed for the people to stamp on them. Many ask to be photographed making the sign of victory standing over Gaddafi’s carpet portrait; others narrate what were till the other day underground jokes.

The shooting has ended at this remarkable square. A team in brand new camouflage uniforms makes sure there are no more “friendly fire” accidents.

Last Monday, an 11-year-old atop one of the three yellow cranes abandoned in the middle of the square was reportedly shot in his back by a fighter’s bullet. And this was not the first accident caused by rebels’ enthusiasm over the last six months.

Fighters from Misrata joined Eid celebrations at Martyrs’ Square. They were easy to spot; hardly anyone else wear bullet-proof jackets. They came in their unmistakable black vehicles carrying the slogan: “Misrata will never be enslaved again”. Misrata is the third largest city in Libya, located about 200km to the east of Tripoli.

“We’re all waiting to head for Sirte – Gaddafi’s hometown. If they don’t meet the Saturday deadline to surrender, we’ll hit them hard the same they did with us,” Ahmed Sarbaan, a London-born Misratan tells IPS.

After it was completely surrounded by Gaddafi’s troops, Misrata suffered the worst in the Libyan civil war.

Things are a little clear in Medina in the old town area of Tripoli, just a five-minute walk from the square. Many of the residents here are “foreigners”.

“Do you see all those guys smoking and sipping tea in that coffee shop? They’re all Egyptians. Most of them were strong supporters of Gaddafi until yesterday. You won’t see Libyan rebels’ flag over there,” says Ramzan, a local shopkeeper standing by a huge display of women’s shoes.

There are not many buyers for the shoes. “Eid is always the best time for business, but not this year. A lot of people have fled,” says Ramzan.

“I’ve been a construction worker in Libya for the last five years,” says Eyub Tahan, a Turk. “Gaddafi did good things for the country but in the end, I think he simply went nuts. You cannot shoot at people who simply ask for their rights, that was a big mistake.”

Eid celebrations brought singing, flag-waving, and even dancing from the windows of a myriad of cars stuck at traffic jams in downtown Tripoli. Celebrations included a visit to Baba al Aziziyah – Gaddafi’s shelled compound

“I still think that I’m living in a dream. It’s not only that we weren’t allowed to visit the complex, we couldn’t even go within several streets around it,” says resident Hatip. “He always said he lived in a tent, can you believe that?” adds an angry woman from a lounge next to a shaded swimming pool at the compound.

They are among the thousands of Libyans who have been visiting Gaddafi’s compound and the maze of tunnels underneath. The former ruler’s personal belongings are today free “souvenirs”. The eight square kilometre seat of Gaddafi’s home and power is now like a fair ground.

A young man rejoices as he finds a postcard written by Ayesha – Gaddafi’s daughter – to her aunt. A man in working clothes struggles to lift a wooden door to the roof of his car.

“Three of my neighbours were killed two weeks ago. They have already arrested three Chadians but the fourth one, a Libyan, is still free. We all know him in the district,” 22-year-old Manad Zlitani says, standing on the very spot from where Gaddafi gave his public speeches.

Pictures of alleged Gaddafi supporters can be found plastered on the streets and in photocopies handed out by soldiers at checkpoints. There are warnings of risks posed by these “fifth columnists”, and tension is high among the new security personnel in the city. Car controls have become more rigorous and foreign journalists’ bags are being checked.

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