Nine months and one week after the violent suppression of a demonstration sparked a savage civil war, the most incendiary and vicious chapter of the Arab Spring, Libya yesterday celebrated ‘Liberation Day’.
The triumphs of the revolution, some of them imagined, led to repeated outbreaks of celebration, with much gunfire in the air, by a people craving to break away from 42 years of a dictatorial straitjacket. Yesterday’s ceremony, unsurprisingly, was grander in scale than before, with relief that the danger of the old regime was finally over with Muammar Gaddafi’s death.
But the new nation faces other dangers. At the start of the uprising in the east the cities and towns in the region were festooned with banners proclaiming “No Foreign Intervention – Libyans Can Do It Alone” But the rebel victory was only made possible due to Nato intervention and yesterday’s official commemoration took place not at the capital, but at Benghazi in the east, a decision which has led to accusations and recriminations in Tripoli and the West.
The rancour over the venue was not just about regional rivalry, but the fierce struggle taking place to determine Libya’s political and religious shape. The Islamist faction in the east is challenging opponents in Tripoli and the west, who they see as too secular, materialistic and with many tainted by association with the Gaddafi regime.
Meanwhile in Misrata, a city which withstood a bloody siege by the regime forces, lies the body of Muammar Gaddafi. He brought disparate groups together in opposition to him; now, in death, he is a source of division.
Anxious over rising condemnation by the UN, human rights groups and states such as Russia at what appeared to be the lynching and execution of Gaddafi and his son Muatassim, and calls for an inquiry by the US and UK, the new government has spoken of transparency in getting to the truth of what happened when Gaddafi died.
It has also stated that the public display of the corpses, to thousands of visitors including families with children, was leading to adverse reactions abroad, and should end. Yesterday, medical sources disclosed that an autopsy carried out secretly on Saturday showed Gaddafi died after being shot in the head and stomach at close range. This contradicts a claim by the National Transitional Council’s acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril that he was killed in crossfire when loyalist troops tried to rescue him.
Mr Jibril, who has announced his resignation, said he was sorry Gaddafi was killed rather than arrested. This in itself has led to exasperation among some military commanders.
Ibrahim al-Sharkasy, head of the military security committee, said: “Both Gaddafi and Mutassim were killed in a battle, so why are some of our leaders saying they are so worried? We are concentrating on the future, how places like Misrata, which have been neglected at a national level, can be represented in the future.”
The increasingly bitter differences have been given an incendiary dimension by the heavily armed militias formed during the conflict in a land awash with weapons. The old regime’s abandoned arms caches have been stripped bare. Some arms have been smuggled to groups abroad, but most are in private hands.
Yesterday’s crowd viewing the bodies of the Gaddafis in Misrata was the largest since they have become exhibits. Some people were from surrounding towns like Zintan and Zawiyah, and they later attended Tripoli’s liberation celebrations.
Kassim Bin Shawalhi brought his wife and two sons, aged 14 and 12, to see Gaddafi’s body.
“Gaddafi affected all our lives, he was evil. That will all be buried with him, somewhere out in the desert,” Mr Bin Shawalhi said. “I don’t know what futures my sons will have. But the main thing is they will be able to choose it.”
Gaddafi’s last will published
Muammar Gaddafi wished to be buried in Sirte, unwashed and wearing the clothes in which he died, according to his will. The document, published yesterday on his website Seven Days News – beneath a photo of his body lying in public display on a bloodstained carpet – had been handed to three relatives. “Let the free people of the world know that we could have bargained over and sold out our cause in return for a personal secure and stable life,” it read, with his characteristic air of defiance. “We received many offers to this effect but we chose to be at the vanguard of the confrontation as a badge of duty and honour.”
Kim Sengupta, The Independent