Libya’s Col Muammar Gaddafi is dead, but his
shadow and the decades of his iron rule have
not quite departed to the other side.
He has left behind a tumultuous political transition
that has little in terms of institutions to build on and
that is still trying to lay the foundations of what it is
hoped will be democratic and stable rule.
One year on, Libya has held its first ever elections for
a congress that saw people vote with peaceful
dignity, which appeared to be a pointed message
against decades of tyranny and an appreciation for
what the present has to offer.
Oil production is back up to pre-war levels and some
foreign companies have resumed operations – though
mostly in the oil sector.
But scores are still being settled, like the deadly
stalemate between the cities of Misrata and Bani
Walid that has escalated in recent weeks and
appears to be on the brink of becoming a bloody
battle which few Libyans have any appetite for.
Militias around the country are also still proving to be
a persistent headache with no simple drug that will
relieve people from them.
People are desperate for a sense of tangible political
progress – even some of those who supported the
late colonel, like the man I arranged to meet in a
parking lot and who asked to remain anonymous.
“Nothing has changed, and maybe things are worse
now”, he said.
“Murder and violence was limited before… limited to
certain people, certain families… and people
understood that. Now you don’t have wrong or right,
the problem now is chaos. People have no direction
and don’t know who is leading them.”
Much of life in most of the country is normal and
functioning, but there remains a sense of “we don’t
know who’s in charge” as many a Libyan will point
out, and that is frustrating people.
‘Green Book in the rubbish’
Tuning in to the radio is no longer a mind-numbing
experience – robotic presenters on state-owned
channels informing the audience of the latest news
about the colonel.
Libyans are now allowed to own private media.
This has brought voices to the
airwaves that were completely
absent before. English and Arabic
music and news channels, a
Salafist radio channel and Libya’s
first all-English radio station, which
would have been illegal a year ago.
The late leader and
commemoration of his 1969 coup
used to be a seemingly permanent
feature of the Libyan landscape.
Martyrs’ Square in central Tripoli
was called Green Square to reflect
Col Gaddafi’s choice of national colour.
Even the metal shutters of shop fronts were required
to be green. Most shop owners have repainted them
now with their colour or design of choice.
1st of September street has been re-branded as the
24th of December street – its original name under the
old kingdom, marking Libya’s independence from
Many other streets and the university which were
named to reflect dates or titles to promote Gaddafi’s
revolution have reverted to their previous names.
The death of Gaddafi also brought about the death of
his political ideology, encompassed in the infamously
confusing Green Book. Book shops, previously limited
in what they could import, used to stock the Green
Book. Not any more.
Stroll in to one of the oldest bookstores and
publishing house in Tripoli – al-Forjani – and the
changes are immediately apparent.
The spot where Gaddafi’s poster once hung is now
covered with the national flag, and on the other side
hangs a massive portrait of the founding father of al-
This is where you’ll run in to one of many reminders
of those who suffered at the hands of the previous
The Green Book, according to bookseller Moussa
Youssef Shaagoush “is in the rubbish”, he says as he
points to the neatly stacked new titles lining his
They include a voluminous whistle-blowing book by
former Foreign Minister Abdulrahman Shalgham,
called People around Gaddafi, and others like it.
“I was imprisoned for eight years… because I tried to
set up a political party,” Mr Shaagoush tells me with
an infectious grin that seems rather inappropriate for
the topic at hand.
He quickly fetches the 1980s documents to prove it
and shows an officially stamped paper, and another
one with his name on an execution list.
The bookseller, who was once limited to selling titles
approved by the previous regime, is relishing the
‘Libya is free’
There are changes in the winding alleyways of the old
city, with its dirt roads, peeling paint, and cracks in
The traditional Libyan dress, trinkets and the shiny
copper plates with a map of Libya are still there.
Unsurprisingly, the plates that
used to have Gaddafi’s image with
a ball of sun behind him are
nowhere to be found. Nor will you
find the T-shirts with a similar
image, or the stamps with his face
Imad, one of the shop owners, says
he sold the last of his Gaddafi
memorabilia two days before the
“We don’t do too much before… if
the government want this we make
10 pieces… but we don’t make too
much of the picture of the ex-
dictator,” he says with a chuckle.
He says there is more national unity now.
“I think the whole world thinks wrong about Libya…
you have a little trouble now in Libya, but this is
After the revolution we need maybe six years…
another country like France maybe needed 18 years –
we are now just one year after the revolution, I think
after two years everything will be OK.”
Strolling out of one of the alleyways, I spotted an
elderly man with a heavily etched face selling
traditional carpets. He softly whispered: “Wait”, as I
took pictures of him in his chair.
He slowly got up, edging to the back of his small
store room to retrieve a fan made from straw with
two small national flags glued to the bottom of it.
Red, green and black markers had been used to
scribble: “Long-live the 17th of February [revolution],
Libya is free.”
He sunk back in his chair, held up the fan and
signalled that he was ready to be photographed now.
This was the image he wanted the world to see.
Libyans trying to move on from
By Rana Jawad
BBC News, Tripoli
This carpet seller was eager to show he supported
because I tried
to set up a
Tripoli’s shops are no longer full of
We are now
just one year
think after two
Libyan bookshops now stock
whatever they think will sell –
rather than Gaddafi’s Green Book
Libya’s Col Muammar Gaddafi is dead, but his