Celebrating Gaddafi's Death with a Libyan On a Segway
It’s getting pretty rowdy in Martyrs' Square, with the firework-shooting and horn-honking reaching a fever pitch. But 50 yards away in Break Fast & Pizza the mood on the first anniversary of Gaddafi's death is less upbeat. I’m drinking a non-alcoholic Beck's and eating a very cheesy pizza with Moe alongside some old guys. Moe’s an engineering student who’s waiting for university to start again in the spring. We’re all staring up at Al Jazeera and the severed body parts being spewed out of Aleppo. It’s not going down well with my fellow diners who are looking a bit grey and staying quiet.
Moe turns to me and says, "No one should be celebrating today." He’s riled because of Bani Walid. It’s a town just two hours south of Tripoli and it’s getting flattened by government-affiliated militias. They say the town is bristling with Gaddafi hard-liners so they’ve sent in trucks piled high with Grad multiple rocket launchers. And that’s not all that’s getting him down. Moe turns to me: "Libya wasn’t liberated one year ago, even the military phase wasn’t over then. And there’s still the same corruption, and inefficiency."
But other people are celebrating. And some are doing it with an impressive disregard for personal safety. Especially considering no alcohol is involved. Around the perimeter of Martyrs’ Square cars decked out with flags are gridlocked three-deep and have their horns blaring. And in the centre, young men on quads and motorbikes race between clumps of enthusiastic flag wavers who sporadically launch fireworks by hand.
Looking back to the TV, it looks like Al Jazeera is doing the weather. But then I realise the presenter isn’t talking about temperature and wind conditions. It’s a map of Syria showing explosions and tanks and front lines.
Everyone is grimming out in Break Fast & Pizza. The whole Bani Walid thing has been such a vibe killer over the last few days. When you talk to people they’re pessimistic, and if they’re not pessimistic they’re sporting a kind of forced cheerfulness. Earlier I’d been talking to a taxi driver and it started off with standard stuff "free libya", "fuck Gaddafi", but then we started talking football and he started to reminisce about the days before the revolution when you could watch regular football games in Tripoli, government ministries did their job and not every 15-year-old had an AK-47 stashed in their bedroom.
I push away my plate and signal to Moe that I’m going outside for a bit. Some burka’ed women have started a protest at one end of the square. It’s a protest against people who want the attacks on Bani Walid stopped. I ask a guy standing next to me to translate their signs for me: "We support the government decision"; "Purify Bani Walid". Earlier in the week a bunch of protesters who wanted to stop the shelling demonstrated by carrying out an armed raid on parliament, breaking-in mid-session after opening fire on the guards.
A man beckons me over and tells me his name is Honey and women love him. But only in Europe. He likes nightclubs and the crazy life. But there are no opportunities for him in Europe because he is black and he is a Muslim and Germans are racist fuckers. I tell Honey I think the guys on motorbikes need to stop doing high-speed skids so close to us. He tells me they are "just playing".
As it gets later more and more people are pouring into the square and the celebratory traffic jam has come to a complete standstill. Even with all the fighting in Bani Walid and the failure to form a government it’s hard not to be carried away by the chanting and all the grinning. Two women with a massive flag ask me to take their picture. Afterwards they ask me if I’m Muslim. "That’s OK," they say when I tell them I’m not.
A middle-aged guy in a blazer cuts through the crowd riding a Segway and a couple of guys on top of a car start launching massive rockets shouting "Allahu akbar!" All the while the government militiamen stand beside their Toyotas, looking on. I try and have a chat with them and ask if I can take a photo but they tell me no way, so I head back to Break Fast & Pizza for another non-alcoholic Beck's. Moe is still there nursing a coffee and watching Arabic news. "It’s not a bad party," I tell him, and he shakes his head keeping his eyes fixed on the TV. "Maybe for the families," he says.