Tripoli smiles post-revolution

Libyans returning home from diaspora face a number of challenges to rebuilding their beloved homeland, but are so far hopeful of things to come.

From the air, there isn’t a single country in the world that doesn’t look like it’s at peace – regardless of what is happening on the ground.

Flying into Libya’s capital Tripoli via Istanbul at midday, the scene is no different.

It has only been a few weeks since Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed and Tripoli International Airport already feels like the front line in a town emerging. But where it’s going, no one really knows.

Getting off the plane are businessmen talking of deals and diplomats shaking bits of paper, as TV crews harass them and try to keep track of what seems like thousands of flight cases.

All the while a ragtag group of soldiers stand guard.

Some of them look like an undisciplined bunch. Others have more serious looks etched across their faces.

The “no smoking” signs seem like they have recently been put up, but the stench of cigarettes still lingers in the air.

Apparently no one is paying attention to this new rule.

The airport has a sad, desperate feel to it – much like a grand opera dame once proud, now reduced to singing for scraps.

I don’t know why I came up with the opera reference, but I think it has something to do with the  turquoise colour scheme that greeted us at customs.

Airports though, all have one thing in common: people.

Seeing Libyans return to their homeland from across the world warms the heart. For some it is the first time, broken Arabic is mixed with English and French.

Long-lost relatives embrace each other. For many of the younger ones born in lands far from here, it is the first time they have seen Libyan soil.

Others, much older, look around and remember the last time that they saw this place. One man in his 50s says the air smells the same, but he is breathing it differently.

The same but different. It could be the new Libyan slogan.

Post revolution Libya faces a number of challenges. Among them is forming a government and all that entails disarming the militias that have sprung up across the country uniting the different tribes and towns, and forging a new national identity and rebuilding a decimated and antiquated oil industry.

The residents of Tripoli, like all Libyans, have been through hell.

Imad, Al Jazeera’s producer here, tells me of the final days of the regime.

“It is quiet now, but that last month was really bad. Gaddafi armed whoever he could and they acted without care, killing anyone they suspected, starving people of electricity, and food,” he said.

Driving through the city, you can see the extent of NATO air strikes. The home of the much-feared 77th amoured brigade is smashed to pieces.

When that strike came, the noise was said to be so thunderous that those who lived through it will never forget it.

But maybe forgetting is what’s needed.

Forgetting old enmity and ancient rivalry and moving forward together as a people.  

However, with so many Libyans desperate for the development that the revolution promised to bring, it may only be a short while before frustrations turn to anger – aimed directly towards the people who took part in this country’s historic battle for freedom.

Add to the mix a general distrust of government and the ingredients are all in place for a very difficult rebuilding process.

But if the smiles on the faces of those who returned to Tripoli on my flight are any indication, then Libya has a chance – and that is the most heartening thing of all.

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