14 Oct 2011

Tension on the streets of Tripoli

As post-liberation euphoria on the streets of Tripoli starts to fade, residents of the Libyan capital are losing patience with their rustic ‘liberators’. International Editor Lindsey Hilsum reports.

Thursday is the start of the weekend, so last night everyone was out roaring round Tripoli. A carful of little girls shrieked and waved when they saw me, and a group of young men were playing rap music so loudly it drowned out all the engines in the traffic jam. And then of course, there are the Zintan boys, hurtling around in souped up 4x4s with rocket launchers on the back.

The people of Tripoli are beginning to get fed up of their visitors. A month ago, the rebels from Zintan and Misrata were heros, but now the shine is wearing off. Tripoli people say they liberated the capital themselves, rising up after prayers on August 20th and attacking Gadaffi’s remaining security forces. The boys from Zintan and Misrata came in afterwards and finished the job. The Z and M boys, of course, say they liberated Tripoli and its residents should be grateful. Many from Misrata have gone on to fight in Sirte, but the Zintan boys are having a nice time in Tripoli and don’t want to go home yet.

Tripoli residents regard Zintanis as country boys, rather unsophisticated and smelly. There are accusations of theft including the persistent rumour that they stole an elephant from the Tripoli zoo, and took it to Zintan. (The joke is that they then mounted a rocket-propelled grenade launcher on its back. At least, I think that was a joke.) But the Zintan boys are having the time of their lives. In Tripoli, girls are out on the streets and many of them want to have their photographs taken with the brave fighters. Why would you give that up to go home to the boring, conservative life in the Nafousa Mountains where your mum wants you to marry your cousin?

Neither the Zintan nor the Misrata fighters accept the authority of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the head of the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, accusing him of being an Islamist and a stooge of the Qataris. They do respect the leader of the Transitional National Council, Abdel Jalil, but they have not yet followed his request to go home. Meetings between the heads of various brigades have failed to sort out the problem.

Tension is inevitable in the aftermath of a revolution which has swept away all the organs of state, but this problem is beginning to sour relations between the different towns and regions which rose against Gadaffi. Libya has had a huge adrenalin rush, and no-one quite knows how to cope as it subsides.