The New York Times reports: Tripoli is no longer the capital of a police state. But what it has become, in just a matter of weeks, can be both exhilarating and disturbing.
Hashish dealers are openly hawking their wares in the center of the city, Martyrs’ Square, known as Green Square before Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was overthrown. Drivers run red lights without giving it a thought, while political demonstrations snarl traffic. Irregular militia members who have replaced the hated Tripoli police in many neighborhoods are still showing poor discipline with their weapons, firing them accidentally or into the air all too frequently.
Tripoli is a vibrant city of nearly two million people with a bustling port, and it is graced by Roman ruins and old fortification walls built by the Ottomans and other conquerors. But while it has gone through other abrupt changes over the centuries, what is happening these days was unthinkable only weeks ago when Colonel Qaddafi tried to control even the smallest details of daily life.
Tinted windows were prohibited on cars; now, drivers everywhere are pasting dark green tinted plastic on their windows to keep out the searing sun but also as a sign of their new liberty. Fruit and vegetable vendors were restricted from selling their wares on most streets; now, throngs of them are out selling bananas and oranges beneath highway overpasses and on the sides of traffic circles, helping them feed their families but also worsening congestion.
English was largely prohibited from public signs by Colonel Qaddafi. Now, English signs have sprung up almost everywhere around town, even though few Libyans understand what they say. The signs are another expression of liberation, as well as the country’s readiness to open itself to the outer world.
“Today, Tripoli Has a New Heartbeat,” says one billboard displaying two militiamen hugging, put up by the interim municipal government. Even much of the revolutionary graffiti, which is everywhere, is in English. “Libya Free” is the most common. Some even say “Thank you, NATO” for the Western military assistance that was crucial to overthrowing the old government.
And, of course, there are numerous freshly scrawled depictions of the late dictator in a clown outfit or as a caricatured head on top of the body of one kind of beast or another.
Most Tripoli residents say that they have never been happier, but there is still some trepidation.