A taste of freedom turns bitter for some Libyan families

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The Independent Online

Samir al-Waqir was in Bab al-Aziziya on 23 August. He had followed rebel fighters as they stormed Muammar Gaddafi's fortress in the heart of Tripoli. The 25-year-old student had rushed from his home because he wanted to be part of that momentous day.

Unarmed and seemingly oblivious to the danger from shooting all around, arms aloft in exultation, he shouted slogans of revolution and liberty.

Later he said: "This is the most wonderful time in all our lives, it would be difficult for outsiders to understand what this means. For 40 years we have had no voice, now we want to enjoy freedom." Mr Waqir's own family had suffered under the regime. An uncle, an army captain, was jailed for 10 years after being accused of taking part in an attempted coup in the late 1970s.

His father was suspended as a lecturer at Tripoli University after a colleague said he had criticised Colonel Gaddafi's Green Book. A branch of the family was in Misrata during its long and brutal siege in the civil war and an elderly aunt became gravely ill.

On 25 August Mr Waqir and a friend took me to Abu Salim, a predominantly working-class district where regime loyalists were putting up fierce resistance. Watching rocket-propelled grenades bursting into residential blocks supposedly hiding snipers, he acknowledged that civilians were becoming casualties.

"That is very sad," he said. "But this is a temporary thing, once this is cleared the war will be over. Then we won't have any more of this, we will be a united people. We are all Libyans."

The war did not end so quickly. Mr Waqir went to the frontline in Bani Walid, another regime strongpoint. He returned to Tripoli to find the family farm on the outskirts of the capital had been ransacked by militia. It was sited close to properties owned by members of the extended Gaddafi clan. Properties in the area had been deemed to be owned by collaborators and considered fair game.

A week later a neighbour was stopped at a checkpoint and relieved of his car, money and laptop by rebel fighters and then beaten up when he protested. The men were from Zintan in the western mountains: a group gaining notoriety for looting and other forms of criminality. "He is a good man, he has to look after three children, they broke his arm. These people are taking anything they like and no one can stop them," Mr Waqir said. "They have stolen jet skis and taken them back to Zintan. Can you imagine? It's up in the hills. They even took an elephant from the zoo back there. This is a big joke."

But life was getting anything but funny for the Waqir family. I next saw Mr Waqir in the days after the capture and killing of Colonel Gaddafi. He was in despair about his brother Waleed. "Someone had said he worked for the old government and that was enough, he has been arrested. We don't even know who has told this lie, we think it was someone he had a business with in the past and they quarrelled at the time. I have been to see Waleed in prison and he is very afraid."

Mr Waqir is now in the UK – he was told it would be better if he left Tripoli for a break while efforts were made to free Waleed. He is staying in Manchester with his uncle, the former army officer jailed by Gaddafi, who went into exile after being released.

Despite all that has happened, Mr Waqir is committed to the revolution. "Mistakes are being made, but this will get better. We'll have elections. We can never, ever go back to a dictatorship."