Libyans divided between reconciliation and revenge

Leaders seek forgiveness for Gaddafi, but many want his head after 42 years under tyrant's rule; others look to brighter future for new Libya.

September 17, 2011 18:29
4 minute read.
Rebels step on poster of Muammar Gaddafi

Rebels step on poster of Muammar Gaddafi. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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TRIPOLI- A cheering crowd welcomed Mustafa Abdel Jaleel, chief of the Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), when he made his first public appearance at Martyrs Square in the capital and called for reconciliation rather than revenge against the ousted regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

The half-hour address, in which Jaleel never mentioned Gaddafi’s name, was punctuated by celebratory gunfire. But elsewhere in Tripoli the gunfire is just as often a cry of anger and revenge against the man who ruled Libya with an iron fist for more than four decades.

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Not far away from Martyrs Square, Abdul Rahman, a 21- year-old rebel loaded his anti-aircraft gun and shot off two rounds after learning – incorrectly, as it transpired – that one of Gaddafi’s sons was captured. "No matter what those in control of the country say, Gaddafi must be hanged," Abdul declared.

“I come from Misrata. Gaddafi destroyed my town. He killed two of my cousins. I have no place for forgiveness for him or his family,” Abdul said, while chanting “Allah Akbar,” a common phrase shouted by rebels to greet each other. “Gaddafi and [his son] Saif must be hanged in this very square, in front of all Libyans,” he said.

The whereabouts of Libya’s long-time dictator remain unknown and his remaining loyalists are still battling TNC forces from strongholds in Sirte and Bani Walid. But  Gaddafi will have trouble avoiding the law if he survives. Abroad, both he and his son Saif al-Islam are wanted by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. At home, many Libyans say that his rule has left too any bitter memories to put the past behind them.

Among the Middle Eastern despots that have been ousted in the Arab Spring, none have been forgiven or left to quietly retire. Egypt’s long-time rule Hosni Mubarak and his two sons are now being tried in Cairo. Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali escaped to exile in Saudi Arabia, but in June he and his wife were sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison.

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization, said in a report this week that revenge attacks against suspected loyalists of the Gaddafi regime and opportunistic “settling of scores” continued even as the NTC controlled most of the country.


"The new authorities must make a complete break from the abuses of the past four decades and set new standards by putting human rights at the center of its agenda,” Amnesty's senior director Claudio Cordone said in a statement. “The onus now is on the NTC to do things differently, end abuses and initiate the human rights reforms that are urgently needed.”

The soft spoken Jaleel called for forgiveness and urged Libyans to unite in their freedom and bury hatred and vengeance desire. Jaleel himself served as a minister of justice in the Gaddafi regime before defecting to the rebel side.

“I call on youth of the revolution not to infringe on the sanctity of the houses and families of figures from the former era,” Jaleel said to the thousands who waved the black, green and red flag of new Libya, after thanking god for ending the era of tyrants.

The streets of Tripoli are sending a different message. A young girl repeatedly sings an anti-Gaddafi song that has become a type of anthem since rebels stormed the Bab Al-Azizya compound that the regime regarded as its headquarters three weeks ago and ousted the last Gaddafi supporters from the city.

In the dirty streets, walls and shop fronts are adorned by pictures of Gaddafi on the run and effigies of the former leader hanging from a rope.

Khalid Musrati, a rebel fighter, stands at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Tripoli, with a colored bandanna wrapped around his rugged face. He said he is personally on the hunt for Gaddafi. Musrati says he went to visit the homes of the Gaddafi family to see first hand the regime's extravagance and corruption. "I had the chance to get very rich during the revolution, but I’m not interested in money or anything but to arrest Gaddafi and put him to trial in front of all the Libyans," he told The Media Line. "Gaddafi ruled us for 42 years and he took our money and tarnished our reputation. We want a new Libya that stands as an example for the rest of the Arabs."

There are other voices; Suha, a 23-year-old medical student who asked to be identified only by her first name, was in the street looking for a curbside vendor from whom to buy the flag of new Libya. After years of repression, she said she was thrilled at the chance to express her true feelings – and for her, that is enough.

"Gaddafi is in the past. We’ve already forgotten him. He no longer makes any difference in our lives,” she said as she held her new flag. “We want to move forward. All Libyans must move forward otherwise we will become like Gaddafi's people, full of anger and hatred to the world."

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