High-velocity celebration: Tripoli after Gaddafi
It’s all about cohesion really, which you can’t buy, measure or pump from a tank, but if a city has it then, well, you feel you can do anything.
And that is Tripoli just now. Imagine: The Colonel turfed out right in the final days of Ramadan leading to the feast and dancing of the Eid festival, which under the old regime you couldn’t even celebrate on the streets let alone in Green Square, now Martyrs’ Square.
No wonder the revolutionaries feel they’ve God on their side – some timing!
And so to life here in this atmosphere. For now, a street party must have those peculiar ingredients of no alcohol (obviously); as many large drums as you can lay hands on, and guns, lots of guns.
Deafening Kalashnikovs last night with 10,000 gathered for Eid in Martyrs’ Square. Show-offs set the catch to auto and fire blasts. Big show-offs bring their Toyota pick-ups with anti-aircraft guns welded to the flatbeds. It’s friendly beyond belief and as with any good party, only a few people get shot. And even then only accidentally.
One lad, standing near us last night took a stray round in the back; no hard feelings it seemed, as he lost consciousness, and they do bring along plenty of ambulances to deal with the by-product of high-velocity celebration. Already enough shops are open to make sure that you’ve got that new set of outfits in time for Eid, for all the family. Or that the lads on the roadblocks can have silver trays of cakes to offer drivers they flag down, these days more for a chat than a search.
Most roadblocks have gone anyhow, there being little perceived threat to check for. In any case the NTC’s putting it out over the mobile phone network, that if you hand in your AK 47 you get a wadge of cash – they’ve more than $5m set aside for just this.
There’s even water – of sorts. They tanker it in to various districts which means most of us have it for 3 or 4 hours each day. Given you run a bath to store some up for flushing the loo etc, it’s all pretty manageable. It’s a tad brown. But, caught more than once without bottle water, I’ve drunk it with no discernible illness.
There’s even a little bread appearing here and there, though as with petrol stations you need to set aside the morning, bring a good book, and settle in for a long, long wait. At some forecourts long lines of cars snake off down the road simply left by the owners until word gets out that the pumps are running.
Life is not so easy at the banks where I’ve seen lots of fed-up punters beseiging the banks for cash. ATMs won’t work and plastic? Well that scarcely works these days in some EU countries like Greece. So Libya? Forget the idea.
Of course there’s war profiteering and those who run the Radisson and Corinthia Hotels must be laughing all the way to the bank. A stay at the Radisson, with no food or water for much of last week, will set you back hundreds of dollars per night. You get a room that may or may not lock; will rarely be cleaned and for a while was in direct line of fire.
At the Corinthia they do have food but will charge you at least $60 for a plate of rice and a bit of meat. Ask for a bottle of water or can of Pepsi and you’re at $70+ a head. Talk about incentivising doing a runner.
Although if you did, you might, just possibly, run into a policeman. A what? Yes I know- weird idea but someone out in uniform to enforce what they call, the law. We saw a couple yesterday in a patrol car, for the first time in Tripoli. In fact for me it was for the first time in Libya. How far their writ runs isn’t clear. But they are coming out and the gunmen are going indoors it seems. Britain recently cleared over a billion Libyan dinars to pay such public employees.
Learning lessons from Iraq
Rebels are already directly paying squadrons of Malian foreign workers to get the battered airport up and running as soon as…
The smart money says Qatar’s airline will want to be first in, that state having bankrolled so much of the revolutionary war. Word is, Libya’s airline simply gave its pilots leave of absence to fight, but it must be expecting them back in the cockpits in the coming weeks. Sure, there are a few burned out Airbuses out on the tarmac but the runway, they tell me, is good to go.
And as the National Transitional Council announcements have said on the mobile phone network only those with blood on their hands need face justice.
The average cop, civil servant and so forth from the Gaddafi regime is welcome back at their desks. True, the desk might well have been pulverised by a Nato 1000lb bomb along with the entire department building – but the point is that the NTC says it is learning from the mistakes of Iraq; sweep away the entire system and you further destroy the country.
Welcome the bureaucrats back (when the bureau’s rebuilt) and you’ve got the know-how. Plus a bunch of public employees appreciative of the fact they still have jobs, rather than being strung up from the nearest lamp-post. Public-service political impartiality gearing up for action in Tripoli, of all places. Well, insha’Allah.
Of course the hard bit’s yet to come in this city, perhaps inadvertently summed up in my favourite piece of second-language grafitti here:
But, for now it is the Eid holiday. A pause. A time to try and drink in what has happened across this city, where another simple grafitti slogan captures the mood, the practicality, the possibility of the new reality:
“I love this year – 2011”
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