September 2, 2011 / 5:26 PM / 8 years ago

Jobs and politics key to unity in anti-Gaddafi ranks

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - One young fighter accidentally shoots himself in the foot as others fire wildly in the air, while a truck narrowly misses bystanders as it careers past.

It’s a typical night of celebration for the men who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.

Disarming the fighters, intoxicated by victory and imbued with a sense of entitlement, will be a big task for Libya’s new leaders, who will have to find the jobs and political representation for the men after months of war.

Many fighters have banded into brigades affiliated largely to their home towns, and while there is now an abundance of good will between groups, potential fault lines are plain to see as eyes turn Libya’s economic and political future.

“It’s a good thing, but everything has its price, and the price is chaos,” said Saoud al-Hafi, a coordinator of the uprising in the capital Tripoli, commenting on the young men’s celebrations in the city’s Martyrs’ Square.

A large banner at the square prohibits firing in the air.

“I know a lot of these people and they are willing to give up their arms. But they want to see jobs, security. Jobs are very, very important. It’s one of the things that ignited the revolution,” he said.

Like the young men who overthrew authoritarian leaders in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, the fighters who took up arms after a February 17 revolt cite a lack of good jobs and a poor economy as one of the main reasons for the uprising.

OPEC member Libya is wealthy, with little debt and a relatively small population of around six million people, but Gaddafi did little to diversify Libya’s economy away from oil, concentrating the country’s wealth in his family’s hands.

“The reason for the revolution is poverty. A few controlled everything. It will take one or two years for the economic situation to improve,” said Nizal al-Tayari, 26, one of the anti-Gaddafi fighters at the square.

“If there’s no change, we can have another revolution,” he added, dismissing comparisons with Iraq, which eight years after the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein has made relatively little progress rebuilding its economy and infrastructure.


The young fighters in theory answer to local military councils, which themselves answer to a national military council, which in turn answers to Libya’s new leaders at the National Transitional Council (NTC).

But the chain of command is loose, and the young men volatile, said Hisham Buhagiar, a senior commander who led fighters from Libya’s western mountains into Tripoli.

“They are not the type who are used to taking orders. These are the types of people who will go out, who are really angry, and they just want to change the system. They don’t know how to do it, and it’s very hard to put them back in boxes and say, ‘This is the way you should go’,” he said.

“We have to accept that these guys took away Gaddafi. We must give them the benefit of the doubt and listen to them .... Disarming them and jobs are equally important. If we have enough good jobs for these people, then we will take more of the arms and we will teach them how to live in a civilised democratic country where we talk without guns,” he added.

But with only 13 days passed since anti-Gaddafi fighters entered Tripoli, the NTC does not appear in a hurry to disarm the men, given that Gaddafi remains at large and fighting goes on with pockets of his supporters.

“America took seven years to stop the violence in Baghdad, one city. They were living in the Green Zone for years,” said NTC spokesman Mahmoud Shammam.

“There are (pro-Gaddafi) sleeper cells, a fifth column, and we’re not going to neglect all that and be nice in front of the world and say ‘We’re going to disarm out troops’. No, not now, we’re going to finish the job.”


A group of older, more senior anti-Gaddafi fighters sat at a beach house formerly owned by Gaddafi’s wife, and disavowed any splits between brigades of different regions or tribe.

Different brigades have their hometowns prominently sprayed on their cars and on walls across Libya.

“I’m from Nalut, but I went to take part in the Derna uprising,” said Aref Isa, 36.

“People from different places took part in different uprisings. We all mixed,” said Ibrahim Zaghloul, from Tripoli.

Opinion was split between those impatient for political change, and those willing to wait several years, citing the patience they displayed in enduring Gaddafi’s 42-year-rule.

The NTC was formed shortly after the February uprising began in Libya’s east, and its membership is weighted towards the region. The NTC has announced election plans that begin after it declares Libya’s “liberation.”

NTC chairman Abdel Mustafa Jalil has said the conditions for such a declaration included Gaddafi’s death or capture.

“People want to see something tangible. There’s no time and bureaucracy is killing us. We want a national council, parliament, government, a republic, whatever the people choose, so we can get on with improving health, education, everything,” said Hussein al-Sharif, 42.

Isa said in Libya’s charged atmosphere, timing was key.

“In the beginning we were being slaughtered and we clung to any leaders, even if we didn’t know anyone in the NTC. Now we see their faults and want to choose our own people, but it’s too soon, it’s very sensitive,” he said.

“Were your tribe for or against Gaddafi? If we get into the politics too soon, we could lose all our gains.”

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