It was hard to hear anyone properly over the car horns, ululations, chants and cheers in Martyrs Square, but my friends — students and young professionals who have known little other than Muammar Gaddafi’s repressive, totalitarian, paranoid rule — tried gallantly to describe what it feels like to wave the former “Brother Leader” goodbye for the final time.
“It’s amazing,” Yusef shouts over the crowds. His friend Zuhair wrestles the from him phone to add “It’s an incredible feeling. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.” They pass the phone to Noor, but she is too excited to do more than scream.
With the entire of central Tripoli blocked, they abandon Zuhair’s car several streets away and walk into the central square on foot. “Everyone is coming out of the houses and joining us now. There are thousands of people coming out onto the street, and office workers are leaving their buildings still wearing their suits to come to the square,” Yusef explains.
Yusef was already planning to head to Martyrs Square when he heard that Sirte had fallen, but when he saw the news of Gaddafi’s death on TV “we started jumping in front of the TV, and people just ran outside, to see their neighbours and get candy and chocolates. People were spraying perfume on each other, and giving each other chocolates. We were so happy.”
He left his mother and sisters at home. “Some people are afraid to go out, because of the random shooting,” he says, but the problem hasn’t been as bad as he feared. “There have been three or four cases of people shooting up into the air, but the crowd just started shouting at them and threw water bottles and things at them until they stopped.”
His conversation was halting as he called back greetings and congratulations to strangers in the street. Before the revolution, many Libyans had all but retreated into the relative security of their family homes, fearful of Gaddafi’s security forces and neighbourhood gossip. Despite six months of civil war, Libyans are learning to trust one another again, and ordinary citizens are reclaiming public spaces — both physically, and politically.
Al-Jazeera has reported that mobile phone pictures of Gaddafi’s injured body are already being blown up to make posters to hang in public squares. The reaction is simultaneously distasteful and understandable, but the Libyan people have more to celebrate today than the sorry death of a terrible tyrant. Despite the frenzied excitement of this morning, Yusef was already focusing on the long-term implications of this final military victory.
“Finally we can focus on rebuilding our country, on creating a transitional government, on elections. Until now we have just been focusing on liberating Sirte and finding Gaddafi. Now we can move on.” The National Transitional Council’s political challenges are far greater than the military one they’ve just overcome. But at least now they are ready to move on.
Sophie McBain is a staff writer for Spears. She previously lived in Tripoli.