'We are afraid of both Gaddafi and the rebels'

Amid the euphoria in Tripoli, many still fear for the future

By Portia Walker
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:36

The men in the newly renamed Martyrs' Square were triumphant as celebratory gunfire blasted and horns blared from the rebel pickup trucks parading past them. Jubilant fighters told of their new-found freedom and embraced each another in the streets.

But away from the euphoric crowds and the fighters manning the many checkpoints, there were people in Tripoli filled with fear for the coming days and doubts about the future of a rebel-held Libya. "The situation here reminds me of Iraq in 2003," Mehdi Drar, 52, said. "We don't know who has entered the city. We don't know anything about the people who will rule this country, about their mentality."

Reclining on a bed in his grimy one-bedroom flat, paralysed from the waist down since a car accident 20 years ago, he spoke of his fears for the future and doubts about the Transitional National Council, as the noise of shelling and gunfire drifted in from the street outside and a small black cat nosed around the mess that surrounded him.

"The past 42 years we knew everything about the country: our people, our politics, everything. Now we don't know anything about the future. We are afraid of the end of this, that Gaddafi will use chemical weapons, that there will be a massacre. I am afraid of both sides – of the rebels and of Gaddafi." A neighbour in the sprawl of anonymous, rundown apartment blocks a street away from Colonel Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound was glum about the latest developments in the capital.

"We have no safety in this city. Now most of the people in this area have left. There are no families in the building now, just the young men." He did not want to give his name. "It doesn't matter. I'm free, I'm not with the rebels, I'm with myself." Asked about the future for Libya, he was ambivalent: "I don't know, only Allah knows."

Many areas within the city remain unsafe as pockets of regime loyalists continue to battle rebels with sniper fire and rockets. The stench of rotting rubbish filled the dusty streets around Bab al-Aziziya as children carrying pistols and Kalashnikovs clustered around checkpoints, ducking for cover as a whizz of sniper bullets came from across the compound.

A tinny recording of "Allahu Akbar" blared amid the oppressive late-summer heat, enervating fighters fatigued by their fasting for the holy month of Ramadan. "I feel everything: confused, afraid, excited, optimistic," said Mohammed al-Kabir, 31, as he drove through the detritus towards downtown Tripoli, the unpaved road scattered with burnt-out cars and lined with abandoned rubbish bags.

He stopped abruptly on a wide busy street next to Martyrs' Square, as rebels pulled an old man out of his car, forcing their gun barrels into his chest as he struggled to resist them. As the man was kicked to the ground, a crowd formed, fighters firing their guns in the air while passers-by shouted "Gaddafi, Gaddafi" and accused him of being a Moroccan supporter of the dictator.

The face of this thin middle-aged man was riven with terror as fighters pulled him into the back of a car and drove him away, wedged in the back seat between two heavily armed rebel fighters who repeatedly cuffed him across the head as they took him off.

Earlier, I had met a Moroccan woman walking with her two young girls along the same street to join the celebrations in what until this week was called Green Square. She smiled when I asked her how she felt. "I am feeling the freedom," she said. "We are not afraid any more."

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments