Misrata’s ‘miracle’: One of the worst-damaged cities in Libya’s 2011 revolution, the port has become a symbol of ambition and recovery – but how much of its success is based on the ruthless bullying of regional rivals?

Businessmen confer in shimmering hotel lobbies, a brand new mall is packed with shoppers and manicured trees line public streets. But that dynamism also has its darker side

Misrata

There still are buildings on this Libyan city’s main drag that look like Swiss cheese from months of bombardment by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces three years ago.

But while much of Libya stagnates and festers amid post-war politicking, protests and factional violence, Misrata – possibly the worst-damaged city in the country’s 2011 revolution – is moving on and up. New restaurants and hotels have popped up among the bombed-out apartment blocks and thousands of local entrepreneurs stand ready to make it big.

The instability plaguing the country was evident today, when Jordan’s ambassador was kidnapped in Tripoli by masked gunmen who attacked his car and shot his driver.

Undeterred by violence elsewhere in Libya, European and Turkish businessmen confer with their Misratan counterparts in the shimmering hotel lobbies here, 131 miles east of the capital, Tripoli. On Friday nights, a brand new mall is packed with shoppers – including families queuing for a chocolate fountain – and local authorities have manicured the trees along public streets. “Misrata is known for its ambitious people,” said Mohamed Ali Nari, the owner of the mall, which opened in February. “They are always on the move.”

But that dynamism also has its darker side. In recent months, other Libyans have increasingly labelled Misrata a bully. In March, militia fighters based in the port city attacked an eastern militia seeking to sell an illicit cargo of oil by launching missiles at the tanker at sea. The Misratans set off days of bloody fighting with another eastern militia when they moved to capture eastern territory – a battle that ended, at least temporarily, when tribal leaders warned it would start a civil war.

Misrata’s militias have also sparred repeatedly with rival militias in Tripoli. Misratans brag that their dozens of militia forces – all former rebels – are more disciplined than those of other Libyan cities and work together under a respected local hierarchy. In recent weeks, local leaders have sent fighters to southern Libya to occupy a former Gaddafi stronghold and negotiate a border security arrangement with desert tribesmen.

A scene of destruction in Tripoli , 2011. Misrata is one of the only Libyan cities where citizens say their fortunes are looking up after the revolution (Getty) A scene of destruction in Tripoli , 2011. Misrata is one of the only Libyan cities where citizens say their fortunes are looking up after the revolution (Getty)
The city’s critics say the Misratans are moving into the south to ensure their control over vital oil facilities there.

And Misratan politicians also led the recent charge in the country’s elected parliament to oust the longest-standing post-war prime minister, Ali Zeidan, who has since fled to Europe.

“I was the person who got others to go out against Zeidan,” said Anwar Salwan, one of Misrata’s most prominent businessmen, who also wields broad authority among the city’s well-armed fighters.

Libya is awash in weapons from Gaddafi’s arsenals – now spoils of war for the former rebels who toppled the longtime leader. But Misrata may have the largest collection, Libyans say. And that has made it a fearsome force in a country that has increasingly deteriorated into city-states and tribal territories competing for resources and power.

“Everybody has stuff. It’s difficult to find a house that doesn’t,” said Ayman, a 27-year-old former rebel and militia fighter who would give only his first name, standing amid his father’s tank collection – one of which the family is trying to engineer to operate via remote control.

Ayman’s 21-year-old brother has a separate collection of six trucks with mounted machine guns, parked in the back yard among the livestock. Their cousins cruise around in trucks recently seized in battles with another militia 120 miles away.

It is unclear whether any of Misrata’s weaponry is being sold abroad. Residents say it is not, but they also concede there is zero government oversight here – as in most of the country.

A Qatari businessman who has sold military equipment to groups in Libya said in an interview last year that he was offered Misrata-based missiles for purchase. “There is one party in Misrata that has 200 missiles,” he said, adding that he turned down the offer because the merchandise was of poor quality.

“The government still hasn’t set up. There is no real head of state,” said Mr Nari, who imports goods for his mall and biscuit factory through Misrata’s port. Mr Nari and other businessmen said the port operates with virtually no regulation from Tripoli.

Others said that the Gaddafi-era customs authority continues to function, but taxes incoming goods arbitrarily. “Misrata is its own state. Their militias are not under the control of the central government or anyone’s control,” said Salah Mohamed, a fighter from a rival eastern militia that seized control of a string of oilfields and ports last summer and has clashed with the Misratan fighters for control in recent weeks.

But Misratans also are proud of their independence. Some say their critics are just envious of their success or angry because Misratans killed their relatives in some battle or other – no doubt deservedly, they add.

“I’m sick of everyone blaming everything on Misrata,” Salwan shouted during a recent call-in to state television.

Some residents argue that every one of the city’s military “operations” – including a months-long assault on the former Gaddafi loyalist town of Bani Walid in 2012 and the recent move to seize an illicit oil tanker, were all “orders” from Tripoli that were backed by Libya’s elected General National Congress.

But many here also say that they act when Libya’s nascent central government has proved too weak.

Their detractors, meanwhile, say Misratan forces have muscled every operation into legality – through the passage of congressional orders – by means of threats, protests and violence.

“Misrata led the war. It collected the most weapons,” said Mohamed al-Shami, a former rebel commander in the city. “So people look to us to carry on with the fighting.”

© Washington Post

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
booksNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015