Power comes from barrel of a gun in post-Gaddafi Libya
Published 06/11/2011 | 05:00
Abdul Mojan's moment of realisation came when the people he thought were the good guys threw him into the boot of their car, slammed it shut and drove off with him a prisoner inside.
When they finally stopped and hauled him out, he asked: "What are you doing? I'm a revolutionary just like you. I've never supported Gaddafi."
But the former rebels did not care. They had taken a liking to the new office block in western Tripoli that Mr Mojan managed and they wanted the keys and ownership documents.
"We have sacrificed for this revolution and you haven't, and now we will take what we want," he was told by a cocky 18-year-old. "You can have the building back when the revolution is over."
A week later Mr Mojan was still incredulous as he recounted his tale, admitting that he felt lucky to escape without a beating, although there was nothing he could do about the 5,000 dinar (€2,960) they stole from his car.
Many of Tripoli's residents have had a similar moment of grim awakening in recent weeks. Their liberators, still swaggering around the city in Che Guevara-style berets and armed to the teeth, have not gone back to their home towns as they promised. Nor have they handed in the guns they used to topple Gaddafi.
"When they said 'Libya free', they meant the cars, the refrigerators and the flat-screen television sets," runs one joke in Tripoli's cafes. There are also stories of gunmen taking expensive cars at checkpoints, giving receipts and saying they will be returned after the revolution.
More alarming than the looting have been the armed clashes between militias.
There have been three big fights in the capital alone in the past week; shoot-outs at a hospital, Martyr's Square and the military airport, which have left several dead and dozens wounded.
Then there are the detentions. With the fighting over, the revolutionaries have kept busy, rounding up hundreds of suspected Gaddafi supporters in a widescale witch-hunt, often on the basis of little more than rumour and accusation.
Libya's problems would not look so dangerous if there was a proper government in place to deal with them. Instead, more than two months since Gaddafi was driven from his capital, there is still a power vacuum.
No government has been formed because former rebels cannot agree on how to share out power.
The interim prime minister, appointed last week, is a professor of electrical engineering originally from Tripoli who spent most of the past three decades at universities in Alabama and North Carolina -- and was chosen because he offended nobody. Abdul-Raheem al-Keeb's task is daunting: he has to get the economy going, head off separatists in the east who are talking about setting up their own oil-rich mini-state, disarm the increasingly arrogant militias and organise Libya's first real elections.
The United Nations presence has been kept small, at the request of the National Transitional Council.
Only a trickle of aid workers have turned up.
"There is a deliberate effort to avoid the mistakes of Afghanistan and Iraq and not try to get foreigners in to micro-manage everything," said one EU diplomat last week.
Meanwhile. there is also a fear that now the gunmen have a taste for power, and nobody to stop them, the post-Gaddafi future may be much more difficult than Libyans had hoped.