Libyans trying to move on from Gaddafi
- 23 October 2012
- From the section Africa
Libya's Col Muammar Gaddafi is dead, but his shadow and the decades of his iron rule have not quite departed to the other side.
He has left behind a tumultuous political transition that has little in terms of institutions to build on and that is still trying to lay the foundations of what it is hoped will be democratic and stable rule.
One year on, Libya has held its first ever elections for a congress that saw people vote with peaceful dignity, which appeared to be a pointed message against decades of tyranny and an appreciation for what the present has to offer.
Oil production is back up to pre-war levels and some foreign companies have resumed operations - though mostly in the oil sector.
But scores are still being settled, like the deadly stalemate between the cities of Misrata and Bani Walid that has escalated in recent weeks and appears to be on the brink of becoming a bloody battle which few Libyans have any appetite for.
Militias around the country are also still proving to be a persistent headache with no simple drug that will relieve people from them.
People are desperate for a sense of tangible political progress - even some of those who supported the late colonel, like the man I arranged to meet in a parking lot and who asked to remain anonymous.
"Nothing has changed, and maybe things are worse now", he said.
"Murder and violence was limited before… limited to certain people, certain families… and people understood that. Now you don't have wrong or right, the problem now is chaos. People have no direction and don't know who is leading them."
Much of life in most of the country is normal and functioning, but there remains a sense of "we don't know who's in charge" as many a Libyan will point out, and that is frustrating people.
'Green Book in the rubbish'
Tuning in to the radio is no longer a mind-numbing experience - robotic presenters on state-owned channels informing the audience of the latest news about the colonel.
Libyans are now allowed to own private media.
This has brought voices to the airwaves that were completely absent before. English and Arabic music and news channels, a Salafist radio channel and Libya's first all-English radio station, which would have been illegal a year ago.
The late leader and commemoration of his 1969 coup used to be a seemingly permanent feature of the Libyan landscape.
Martyrs' Square in central Tripoli was called Green Square to reflect Col Gaddafi's choice of national colour.
Even the metal shutters of shop fronts were required to be green. Most shop owners have repainted them now with their colour or design of choice.
1st of September street has been re-branded as the 24th of December street - its original name under the old kingdom, marking Libya's independence from Italian colonialism.
Many other streets and the university which were named to reflect dates or titles to promote Gaddafi's revolution have reverted to their previous names.
The death of Gaddafi also brought about the death of his political ideology, encompassed in the infamously confusing Green Book. Book shops, previously limited in what they could import, used to stock the Green Book. Not any more.
Stroll in to one of the oldest bookstores and publishing house in Tripoli - al-Forjani - and the changes are immediately apparent.
The spot where Gaddafi's poster once hung is now covered with the national flag, and on the other side hangs a massive portrait of the founding father of al-Forjani.
This is where you'll run in to one of many reminders of those who suffered at the hands of the previous government.
The Green Book, according to bookseller Moussa Youssef Shaagoush "is in the rubbish", he says as he points to the neatly stacked new titles lining his desk.
They include a voluminous whistle-blowing book by former Foreign Minister Abdulrahman Shalgham, called People around Gaddafi, and others like it.
"I was imprisoned for eight years… because I tried to set up a political party," Mr Shaagoush tells me with an infectious grin that seems rather inappropriate for the topic at hand.
He quickly fetches the 1980s documents to prove it and shows an officially stamped paper, and another one with his name on an execution list.
The bookseller, who was once limited to selling titles approved by the previous regime, is relishing the new era.
'Libya is free'
There are changes in the winding alleyways of the old city, with its dirt roads, peeling paint, and cracks in the walls.
The traditional Libyan dress, trinkets and the shiny copper plates with a map of Libya are still there.
Unsurprisingly, the plates that used to have Gaddafi's image with a ball of sun behind him are nowhere to be found. Nor will you find the T-shirts with a similar image, or the stamps with his face on it.
Imad, one of the shop owners, says he sold the last of his Gaddafi memorabilia two days before the revolution.
"We don't do too much before… if the government want this we make 10 pieces… but we don't make too much of the picture of the ex-dictator," he says with a chuckle.
He says there is more national unity now.
"I think the whole world thinks wrong about Libya… you have a little trouble now in Libya, but this is normal.
After the revolution we need maybe six years… another country like France maybe needed 18 years - we are now just one year after the revolution, I think after two years everything will be OK."
Strolling out of one of the alleyways, I spotted an elderly man with a heavily etched face selling traditional carpets. He softly whispered: "Wait", as I took pictures of him in his chair.
He slowly got up, edging to the back of his small store room to retrieve a fan made from straw with two small national flags glued to the bottom of it.
Red, green and black markers had been used to scribble: "Long-live the 17th of February [revolution], Libya is free."
He sunk back in his chair, held up the fan and signalled that he was ready to be photographed now. This was the image he wanted the world to see.