The gun settles disputes in the new Libya

A man holding a gun in Benghazi For many former rebels guns still rule in Libya

In towns and cities across Libya, celebrations took place marking the first anniversary of the uprising that led to the overthrow of Col Gaddafi, but hundreds of former rebels are still armed and many believe in settling disputes with a gun.

Benghazi is a city on edge. The flood of adrenalin that powered the revolution has ebbed away, exposing frayed tempers and short fuses.

We went to the hospital to interview a doctor. During the revolt against Gaddafi he had, for a brief period, swapped his stethoscope for a gun.

The doctor's name was Ahmed el Metjawel. He met us in the main entrance and we had not got very far when some former rebel fighters, acting now as security guards in the hospital, asked us if we had permission to film.

The doctor said he would answer for us and on we went. But before we could reach his office, the same security guards reappeared, running after us, with some more senior doctors in tow.

An argument broke out between our friend and one of the hospital directors.

The row was conducted in more or less civil tones, but the politeness was clearly for our benefit. Resentment bubbled under the surface.

Eventually we made it to Dr Metjawel's office, and started recording our interview. We had barely begun when those same three fighters burst in and told us to stop.

Now the anger boiled over. The doctor and the security man squared up to each other in the tiny office, nose to nose.

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We needed permission from the commander of the local brigade, shouted the fighter. What right did he have to walk into his office and tell him what to do, responded our doctor.

And so it went on, hands gesturing, arms flailing. Eventually the security man threatened to call in the "kateeba", the men with the guns.

In Libya, the gun is the ultimate arbiter of disputes. It is not always used, as it was not in this case. Sometimes the mere threat is enough.

A few weeks ago, I went to check on reports that there was digging going on in Gaddafi's former compound in Tripoli. The dictator's gold, it is rumoured, lies hidden somewhere in the ground.

A group of men stopped me from entering.

On whose authority, I wanted to know?

"Authority?" the man in charge asked.

"Yes," I said, "which ministry or government department has decreed that the BBC should be prevented from seeing your digging?"

"I don't need any ministry," said the man, patting his Kalashnikov. "This is my ministry."

Anyway, back to Benghazi.

We went to see the director of the hospital and the incident at the hospital was eventually resolved.

But that little argument told us a great deal about what kind of a country Libya is becoming.

A rose is added to the gun barrel of a NTC fighter in 2011

It is a place where the "kateeba" rules supreme. This country is run by a patchwork of former rebel fighting brigades.

Like the kateeba at the hospital, most of these brigades are answerable to no one but themselves. Each rules over its own little territory, whether it is a hospital, an airport or a few city blocks.

It is at the edges of these small fiefdoms that the trouble starts.

If ever there were a place that proved the old adage that all politics is local, then Libya is it.

I had wanted to talk to Dr Metjawel about the future of his country as it emerges from four decades of dictatorship.

Having fought in the revolution, how did he feel about the direction Libya was heading in?

But his main concern seemed to be the management of the hospital. It was the same old Gaddafi-era figures in charge, he complained, and they were simply appointing their own family and friends to positions of responsibility.

It was the same local concerns that had upset the security people.

Libyan men mark the first anniversary of the uprising which overthrew Gaddafi Many Libyans feel optimistic about the future

They did not really mind us filming in the hospital. But we had asked the doctor for permission rather than the fighters, undermining their little patch of authority.

Almost every evening you can hear evidence of these minor disputes as the sound of gunfire drifts across Libya's cities after dark.

And yet, a recent survey of public opinion suggests a staggering degree of optimism among people here.

Whatever their frustrations about how things are turning out, more than 90% of those questioned thought the revolution was a positive development.

And so the Libyans are both united and at the same time dangerously fractious.

The day after that incident at the hospital, I sat in the warm morning sunshine talking to a man who has become something of a professional protester.

Every day he comes out on to one of Benghazi's main squares to voice his displeasure at the failings of the local government, the power of the armed militias.

After listening to his litany of complaints, I asked him if he thought it had all been worth it. His face changed.

"Oh," he said, "I feel like a different man now. I can breathe, I am free."

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