Libya is to declare its bitter eight-month civil war against Muammar Qaddafi’s 42 years of eccentric one-man rule over on Sunday and embark on building a democracy, with the country’s first free elections next year.
Tens of thousands are expected to pack into the central square in the second city Benghazi, the cradle of the uprising against Qaddafi, to witness interim government leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil announce the “liberation” of Libya.
With huge oil and gas resources and a relatively small population of some six million, Libya has the potential to become a prosperous country, but regional and tribal rivalries fostered by Qaddafi could erupt into yet more violence.
Libya’s new leaders have a “very limited opportunity” to put aside their differences, said interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril as he announced he was stepping down on Saturday.
Jibril said progress for Libya would need great resolution, both by interim leaders on the National Transitional Council and by six million war-weary people: “First,” he said, “What kind of resolve the NTC will show in the next few days?
“And the other thing depends mainly on the Libyan people - whether they differentiate between the past and the future.”
He added: “I am counting on them to look ahead and remember the kind of agony they went through in the last 42 years.
The loosely disciplined militias that sprang up in each town to topple the dictator with the help of NATO airpower are still armed and the places they represent will want a greater say in the country’s future, particularly the second and third cities Benghazi and Misrata who were starved of investment by Qaddafi.
It was fighters from Misrata who emerged from a lengthy and bloody siege to play the biggest part in taking Tripoli and they who caught Qaddafi cowering in a drainage pipe outside Sirte.
And it was back to Misrata those fighters brought Qaddafi’s body to put it on display for two days in a cold storage container for Libyans to see with their own eyes that the hated leader truly was dead.
“There are other brigades from all over the country who fought to defeat Qaddafi. But it’s true the Misrata freedom fighters were mostly responsible for taking Tripoli and for capturing Qaddafi,” a Tripoli-based interim government official, who did not want to be named for fear of prejudicing delicate negotiations about posts in
“The city will have to be rewarded for that and I think that it will be,” he said.
But a field commander in Misrata worried that trouble was brewing:
“The fear now is what is going to happen next,” he said, speaking to Reuters privately, as ordinary Libyans, some taking pictures for family albums, filed in under armed guard to see for themselves that the man they feared was truly dead.
“There is going to be regional in-fighting. You have Zintan and Misrata on one side and then Benghazi and the east,” the guerrilla said. “There is in-fighting even inside the army.”
There is some unease abroad over what many believe was a summary execution and UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay has called for an investigation into the killing, but very few Libyans share any of those concerns.
Arguments have arisen though between Libya’s factions about what to do with the corpse which has not been accorded the swift burial required by Islamic law and is already beginning to decompose. Those viewing the body on Saturday were obliged to cover their faces with surgical masks.
Qaddafi’s surviving family, in exile, want his body and that of his son Motassim to be handed over to tribal kinsmen from Sirte. NTC officials said they were trying to arrange a secret resting place to avoid loyalist supporters making it a shrine. Misrata does
The disputes within the NTC have delayed the announcement of an end to the war several times.
But such worries are unlikely to be paramount in the minds of many Libyans on Sunday as they celebrate the beginning of a new era in their country’s history.
It will set a clock ticking on a plan for a new government and constitutional assembly leading to full democracy in 2013.
“We hope we will have an elected democratic government with broad participation,” said student Ali Abu Shufa. Qaddafi promoted tribalism to keep the country divided, he said. “But now Qaddafi is dead, all the tribes will be united.”