After Qaddafi: Is Libya’s revolution faltering?
The city of Tawargha is the only Libyan coastal town completely populated by blacks, the descendants of the slaves who were once trafficked through the Islamic world. Libya’s blacks have long endured discrimination, but, during the revolution that swept Muammar Qaddafi from power, the residents of Tawargha acquired a new unpopularity—because they fought on the side of the fallen leader.
Tawargha is about 15 miles from the rebel stronghold of Misrata, whose residents claim Tawarghans helped Qaddafi’s forces in an eleven-week siege against their city. After capturing Tawargha in August, Misratan fighters expelled its 30,000 occupants, who are still unable to return home.
In December, I visited Tripoli’s naval academy, which was abandoned during the war and now houses about 2,300 Tawarghan refugees. A group of men were huddled outside in the biting wind. One, named Fawzi Jalab Abdallah, told me Misratan brigades had killed his brother and tortured his three sons. “What did we do to deserve such punishment?” he asked. “Are we not Libyans like them?”
The refugees don’t deny their men fought for the loyalists: 75-year-old Umar Ali Dwib told me his three sons died protecting the regime. But they point out that other loyalist towns, such as Bani Walid and Sirte, have not suffered the same fate. They believe they are being punished for their black skin—and contend that Libya’s interim government, the 33-member National Transitional Council (NTC), is too afraid of Misrata’s powerful militias to allow them to return home.
More than three months after bringing down Qaddafi, Libyans are slowly rebuilding their country. In November, the interim government selected a Cabinet drawn from across the ideological spectrum. Libyans are forming political parties, an act previously punishable by death. And yet, during my recent three weeks in the country, I heard complaints about everything from the slow pace of reform to a lack of transparency to the refusal of militias to disband. How the government deals with these challenges is the first true test of the new Libya.