After Gaddafi, exhaustion and elation on the streets of Tripoli

Ian Black reports: Martyrs Square in the heart of Tripoli has seen many celebrations since the revolution in August, but the mood on Friday was different. There was jubilation, certainly, but a sense too that something even more profoundly liberating has taken place.

Libya’s first day without Muammar Gaddafi was one for angry reflection about the past, optimism for the future, and a feeling that the ripples of his violent death will embolden those still fighting tyranny on the other fronts of the Arab spring.

Noon prayers in what used to be called Green Square attracted only a few thousand worshippers who gathered under an unseasonably hot sun. Residents of the capital seemed both elated and exhausted after a night of unfettered joy at Thursday’s news from Sirte about the demise of the man who dominated this country for more than 40 years.

“In the beginning of the revolution we believed that the fall of the tyrant would just take a day or two, then a week or two, and then a month or two,” said Sheikh Hamza Abu Faris, his elegant classical Arabic interrupted by calls of “Allahu Akbar” and salutes to the martyrs that echoed off the ramparts of the Ottoman citadel where the “brother leader” used to harangue the crowds.

“I am happy Gaddafi is dead,” grinned Abdullah Ali, a scrawny teenager hawking cigarettes under the Italianate arcade on the side of the square, where revolutionary memorabilia are displayed on wooden stands.

“It’s a bit strange actually,” admitted Hatem, a driver. “Gaddafi had been there all our lives. He forced people to love him. And now he’s really gone.”

Zakaria Bishti, an IT expert, recently returned home from California to find a different Libya to the one he left 13 years ago. “I can see the difference since the revolution,” he said. “People are happier, they are looking to the future. Now they feel that they will benefit from all the oil we sell, that they can live better lives.”

Businessman Omar Miftah, squatting on the pavement in a white robe as he listened to the sheikh’s sermon, was blunt about the meaning of what had happened: “Without Gaddafi,” he pronounced, “things can only get better.”

People want to be certain of the fate of his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi. Still, they are now little more than details.

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