El Khadra hospital (“the Green hospital”) in Tripoli was where more than 5,000 of the Gaddafi regime’s soldiers were treated in the first six months of the Libyan uprising. Doctors were threatened and forced to treat only regime soldiers in the wards and intensive care unit.
A tearful doctor who worked in the emergency department told me that elderly men and women died because they were not allowed to admit them into the hospital’s wards. This is the Libya that the infamous colonel ruled for 42 years (minus 11 days) and this is where I was on Thursday lunchtime when I started to hear the crack of gunfire.
Cries of “God is greater! God is greater!” rang out from all of the surrounding minarets and a cacophony of car horns sounded in the streets below. Chinese whispers seems to be the in-game in Libya right now so I didn’t want to get my hopes up (again), but I could do nothing to stop that funny feeling in my stomach and my heart skipped a few beats in anticipation of the news being confirmed: that Muammar Gaddafi was dead! — or even better, captured alive.
As I drove through the streets of Tripoli, every car was hooting and women were ululating on the balconies. Young men were conducting handbrake turns and doughnuts in every car park or open space imaginable. There were scenes of jubilation everywhere. Children lined every highway, street and alley waving the flag of independence, dancing and singing.
Families handed out cups of milk to cars passing by and rose water was sprinkled on each vehicle - a custom usually reserved for weddings. The crack of gunfire from pistols, machine guns and larger anti-aircraft guns was deafening — car alarms were being set off from the sheer might of the noise.
Unfortunately, there is a sinister side to the celebrations, which are the innocent casualties and fatalities that present to the hospitals as a result of stray bullets or bullets landing on them from the air (“celebullets” as Twitter users have come to call them). One only needs to go on to the roof of a few houses in Tripoli these days to find used ammunition that has landed there.
Two days ago, a text message was circulated with a fatwa from Sheikh Saadeg Algharyaany — one of the most respected clerics in Libya and symbols of the revolution — which read: “Firing of guns in the air is not acceptable and it is a sin if it has caused a death.”
As the images of the humiliated colonel started filtering out, on a personal level, I could not help but feel that some Libyans had been robbed of their right to see the “mad dog” face justice in a court of law.
As Libyans celebrate over the next few days, the question of “what next?” will inevitably start to arise. Tripoli has essentially been “liberated” for the past two months and other cities long before that, but up to now civilians have had their fair share of problems.
Great reform and strategy is required to establish the country’s institutions and the path will not be easy. Gaddafi has left his mark on this country and its people and the wounds he has left run deep.
It is probably best understood in a comment that one of the freedom fighters said to me: “The big Gaddafi is gone for good but there is the small Gaddafi inside each and every one of us that still needs to be destroyed. This will take time.”
Nobody can overstate the momentous occasion of the capture and death of Gaddafi but his death is symbolic. The real problems have been put to one side while the celebrations continue but they are the tangible issues that will come back to affect Libyans day to day.
Gaddafi’s death is the end of a very dark chapter in Libyan history and the dawn of a new era beckons. The ingredients for this to happen are ripe but the path will be fraught with obstacles.
Where there is an opportunity there will always be the opportunists and if they are given the platform to do so, they run the risk of polluting the pureness of the revolution and the future transition of Libya.
The courageous thuwaar (or revolutionaries) who died in this bloody revolution have left the Libyan soil as a gift and inheritance that every citizen must cherish. It is up to the Libyan people to protect the thuwaar’s puritan aspirations and realise their dream in order to rebuild Libya the way it should be. gns