Africa

Vying for a slice of power in the new Libya

Fighting in Sirte 5 Oct 2011
Image caption Military battles are still being fought in Sirte and Bani Walid

Libya's transitional rulers have said no new government will be formed until Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte is captured. In the meantime, representatives from towns and cities that rose up against him are now arguing about who should get what posts. As the BBC's Damian Grammaticas reports, there are fears the revolution could now get bogged down in political infighting.

In the Nafusa mountains exuberant gunfire echoes around the hills.

On the edge of the town of Zintan, a crowd has gathered perched on the slopes around a flat, muddy valley.

Men fire Kalashnikovs and heavy anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks high into the sky. They are celebrating their new-found freedom, still savouring their victory over Col Gaddafi.

Then horsemen come galloping forward, in a cavalry charge, five abreast. They stand tall in their stirrups as more wild gunfire erupts all around, spurring the horses to charge even faster.

The riders are swathed in white robes, some hold high what look like lances from which fly the flag of Libya's revolution. Their horses are decked out with silver bridles and saddles.

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Media captionJostling for power in the new Libya has begun, Damian Grammaticas reports

The people of the Nafusa mountains are proud, independent spirits. They were among the first to rise up against Col Gaddafi, and they sacrificed much to oust him.

Zintan, a small town of 50,000, has lost 250 of its men. Its fighters continue to die across the country. The faces of the martyrs, as they are known, are displayed on posters in one of the town's squares and in a school too.

Now Zintan wants a slice of power in the new Libya, and given its leading role in the fight it is bargaining hard.

Dr Abdulwahab Ezzintani, one of the town's elders, and head of its political committee, says the town's original demand was for three ministers in Libya's interim cabinet, but it will settle for two - and wants the ministries of public works and small businesses.

"If you have played the major role in the liberation of the country you have to have a good piece of the cake," says Mr Ezzintani, a former ambassador, with a wry smile. "We believe that because of our sufferings, our losses, we have to have a place, our share."

When I ask if Zintan is being greedy he says, "you cannot put on the same boat the people who fought and who lost so many things , our sons, our animals, our buildings with another city where the people are sitting comfortably with their air conditioning on, it cannot be put like that on the same table."

Power vacuum?

The military battles are still being fought in Sirte and Bani Walid, but Libya's political battles are now beginning.

Hundreds of miles away from Zintan, the city of Misrata believes it too should be rewarded for its role in the liberation fight. Some 1,500 people from Misrata died, many in the effort to break the long and bloody siege of the city, many more fighting elsewhere in Libya.

Image caption Dr Abdulwahab Ezzintani (L) says Zintan needs a share of the post-revolution power

Misrata's Tripoli Street is lined with gutted buildings, rubble and wreckage. There is also now a collection of captured tanks, missiles and bombs on display on Tripoli Street.

The display draws families. Children climb over artillery pieces. People pose for photographs in front of one of Col Gaddafi's most famous symbols, the sculpture of fist crushing an American warplane that used to sit in his compound in Tripoli. It was brought here as one of the spoils of war.

But Misrata wants more. It is putting forward its own candidate for prime minister. It says politicians who did not take part in the fight against Col Gaddafi, but sat comfortably abroad, should be disqualified from serving in a new government and towns that suffered should have a bigger voice than those that did not.

Abdulbaset al-Haddad, a lawyer, who helped lead the revolution in the city adds that there is no way the town is giving up its weapons just yet.

"It is still too early to do this because of what the Gaddafi troops did, all the destruction in Misrata, the criminal acts, the killing and raping of our women," he explains. "No Misrati wants to give up weapons until there is a united government and a national army."

But in Tripoli there is no national government, no national army. The transitional council sits in far-off Benghazi in the east, while armed brigades raised by the revolutionaries are everywhere with their guns.

Forming a new government won't start until Sirte is taken, so the process could take weeks yet, and some now fear that the country might find itself in a vacuum, with different towns and groups all armed and vying for power.

'Entrenched positions'

But Atif el-Hasia, an official in the transitional government's media department, says while Misrata's sacrifice will be recognised, future government posts will have to be based on merit.

Image caption Zintan lost 250 of its men

"Misrata' s wound is so deep that I cannot argue with somebody whose sister was raped, or whose three brothers were killed in their sleep," says Mr Hasia, "you cannot start talking politics with these guys because they' re so entrenched in the battle."

"People say if I fought I need more voice. In terms of the future, they will have their say. But the criteria for choosing ministers is not how much they fought on the front line. It's about credentials and what they can do in our current crisis. Can they deliver what we need?"

High up in the Nafusa mountains, Abdulwahab Ezzintani, says his people want their fair share, but, if they don't get it, they are not going to turn their guns on their fellow revolutionaries.

"If we are ignored and don't get our share in the government, the departments, the money that will be spent, of course we will defend our rights," he says, "not by weapons of course but by talks, negotiations and so on."

After 42 years of dictatorship everyone says they are determined to build a new democracy in Libya. But many Libyans will also say they have no idea where to start that task.

The problem is that they have chased Col Gaddafi away, but the decades of repressive and eccentric rule by one-man rule have left behind a Libya where nobody knows how to share power - even while they are hungry for it.