Africa

Libya conflict: Eid lull lets Tripoli ponder future

Tens of thousands of Libyans gather in prayer at Martyrs Square, formerly Green Square, in Tripoli on Wednesday to celebrate the Muslim Eid al-Fitr feast, marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, as they rejoice in the collapse of the regime
Image caption Eid has brought a lull in Libya's fighting, allowing Tripoli residents to ponder what the future holds

Tripoli's soundtrack this morning was a mix of gunfire and prayers.

From early on, mosque loudspeakers were buzzing across the city's sprawling skyline to mark the feast of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

As the sun rose higher the words of the Koran merged with the clatter of gunfire.

Libyans have an unfortunate habit of firing their guns in the air when they are happy, sad or angry - and all three emotions are on display here at the moment.

It is always the way as a war ends, for winners, losers and the bereaved.

And here in Tripoli it does feel as if the war is over, even though fighting is expected to resume elsewhere in this huge country after what appears to be a pause for Eid.

Anti-Gaddafi forces are squeezing Sirte, Col Gaddafi's hometown, from east and west. They have issued an ultimatum to the Gaddafi loyalists to surrender before the end of the feast or face the consequences.

It is clear, though, that the rebels have some way to go before they can claim to be the masters everywhere.

No 'normality'

Col Gaddafi's wife, pregnant daughter and two of his sons, as well as their families and retinues, were able to drive across a big stretch of Libya to get to the Algerian border.

The furious reaction of the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council (NTC) to Algeria's decision to give the family sanctuary confirms that its men would have stopped them, had it been possible.

It is wrong to talk about a return to normality in Tripoli, because Col Gaddafi dominated everything until just over a week ago. Residents of the city are trying to work out just what normal life will be without him.

Libyans have to be well into their 50s to remember a time when he was not the leader. His cult of personality meant that it was hard not to see his portrait wherever you looked.

His favourite approved images showed him wearing either ochre robes, or a series of increasingly elaborate uniforms, apparently made to his own design. They have all gone.

In the last few days I have seen only two Gaddafi portraits. One was propped up in a dustbin as a fighter emptied his Kalashnikov into it for some grateful photographers.

The other was positioned carefully on the threshold of the hotel where many of the journalists are staying, in such a way that all the guests have to walk over it to get inside.

Fragile peace

Tripoli feels very local at the moment.

Young anti-Gaddafi fighters run roadblocks at important junctions. But there is no central authority.

Image caption The rebels run local checkpoints, but there is no central authority

The NTC has been recognised by many of the world's most powerful states - but as a government it is invisible. Families, and neighbourhoods, are looking after themselves.

It is calm, but if matters continue to drift that might not last.

I saw some signs of impatience and strain outside a bank in Tajoura, a suburb of Tripoli that was one of the hotbeds of resistance to the regime in the last six months.

A few hundred public employees were queuing, hoping it would open so they could pick up their salaries. A woman touched off a shouting match when she started pounding on the door.

The men yelled at her to be patient, all would come right. She yelled back that she had not been paid for three months, and that she was hungry. Other women supported her, saying their children could not wait.

The men said they were happy to feed off revolutionary euphoria. The women were much more conscious that freedom alone does not put food on the table.

The men responded with some patriotic chanting.

Malaise

At the start of this remarkable year, the revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt were just as happy when they overthrew their dictators.

But since then, slow or nonexistent political, social and economic progress have created a poisonous malaise in Tunisia and Egypt.

Most people in those countries still think life is better without the dictators. But the promise of the spring has faded.

The new powers in Libya would do well to learn their lessons.

Libya is fragile and it will need help, luck and wise leadership. It has already been offered some help. It is waiting for the other two ingredients of a better future.