Libya is heading into the New Year with new leaders and hopes. But it turns out, as the immediate post-revolutionary excitement fades, the different factions of the former rebels are turning on each other in what may become a competition for power.
Flying high, but still running low – almost two months after the lifting of a no-fly zone over Tripoli, the city's airport operates far below its capacity. Yet, the passenger traffic keeps increasing every month, as more and more airlines are putting Tripoli back on their flight schedules.
The Tripoli airport is once again buzzing with visitors. Eight airlines have already resumed service; more are expected to follow in the coming months. But while flight controllers and customs officials are back at their desks, it is still the militia who call the shots here. And the rebels themselves admit that the situation is still way too turbulent to cede control to civilian authorities.
They are no longer flashing their guns yet make it very clear who is in control. The rebel brigade from the western city of Zintan captured the airport in late August, as the rebels overran the capital. The control of this key facility helped a town with the population of some 50,000 rise to national prominence. Since then, the Zintan militia has successfully styled itself as the safeguards of Libya's future.
“For 42 years our country had nothing. No state institutions, just one insane person who ruled us. Now we have a historic mission to overcome the difficulties of the transitional period and build a new country, let Allah's will be upon us,” a Zintan Militia commander, Mukhtar al-Akhdar, told RT.
Mukhtar al-Akhdar is one of the top guns in Tripoli these days. Formerly a colonel in Gaddafi's army, he still keeps his Gaddafi army cap in his office. His subordinates are now holding the deposed Libyan leader's son, Saif al-Islam.
“We are against any dictator, but if history repeats itself, we will await a war, but we will let the rule of law decide his fate,” the commander added.
Benghazi, Zintan, Misrata – these Libyan cities, one after another, rose against Gaddafi's regime. Their militias now represent the real axis of power in the country, as diverse in their legacy and agendas as the stripes on Libya's new tricolor.
“The prospect of civil war in Libya is always there – and it always has been there, but has been effectively masked by the very strong centralized rule of the Gaddafi regime. But of course now that that has been destabilized, we see all of these tensions in the fabric of the Libyan society coming to the fore,” says James Corbett, editor of Corbettreport.com.
It has been a month since another militia commander – the one in charge of Tripoli rebels – changed his military fatigues for a business suit. Abdullah Naker is now trying to transform rebels under his command into a political group. A laptop has replaced the rifle as his main tool, The internet is his new frontline. Yet, the armed assistant at his door is a sign that political process is still in its very early stages.
“We've seen many examples in the past when peoples' revolutions were stolen and we are very clear that our struggle is far from over,” Abdullah Naker of the Tripoli Revolutionists Council explains. “Gaddafi may still come back – in some other shape or form – and in that case, we will have to take up our weapons and defend our revolution.”
Guns are still a common sight on the streets of Tripoli, yet their prevalence has visibly decreased. The city is covered with posters calling on the rebels to turn in their weapons. Yet the disarmament of rebels has so far failed to translate into national reconciliation. The competition among various brigades may have become less visible, but no less intense.
“The NATO alliance would like to build up any division within the groups or parties that they have revolutionized against the Gaddafi regime and according to my own understanding they would like to see certain provinces being divided inside the state of Libya,” says Maher Salloum, an ambassador to Universal Peace Federation.
Back in the arrival hall, Zintan rebels are screening passengers' bags under the posters left from the old regime. Gaddafi's golden-framed portrait disappeared from the airport walls. Hatred towards this person may have glued Libyan society for several months, but with his killing the former unity appears to have died as well.