|Vendors sold revolutionary trinkets and gear in Martyrs’ Square [Evan Hill/Al Jazeera]
Libyans in Tripoli’s seaside Martyrs Square have marked the first post-Muammar Gaddafi celebration of Eid al-Fitr, coming out in huge numbers to revel in newly gained independence.
At dawn, thousands of men and about 200 women gathered on huge green carpets to make the special dawn prayer, intoning praise for God before the old stone walls where Gaddafi had made some of his defiant speeches just months before.
Cranes loomed over some of the supplicants. Journalists have been told that they were brought in to support an enormous poster of Gaddafi. The portrait, reportedly what would have been the largest image of a head of state ever produced, was meant for the 42nd anniversary of Gaddafi’s time in power, which is Thursday.
After the prayer, the square emptied, but families continued to circle its expanse in their cars, honking and waving their hands in victory signs.
Rebels maintained positions at intersections around the square, receiving praise from civilians and firing their guns in the air.
Women, rarely seen during the Libyan conflict, joined the celebrations. One waved the rebel flag and flashed the victory sign to a photographer, while her friend hid her face.
In the shade of a colonnade on the square’s eastern edge, where a crowd had gathered, Mohammed Hamadi held his 18-month-old daughter Rawya.
Hamadi, a 30-year-old Tripolitanian, wore a fresh white jalabiya and traditional embroidered vest. His wife had stayed home, but Hamadi had brought Rawya to see the celebration.
“It’s good, very good,” he said.
On the southern side of the square, a middle-aged woman in a brown hijab walked away from the activity, smiling.
Down a narrow alley, a man led his daughter home. Others sat quietly in plastic chairs, enjoying the end of Ramadan’s daytime fasting with small cups of tea and coffee.
Nearby, three men laughed at a row of cartoons and humourously edited images of Gaddafi that had been plastered to a building’s support column. One image showed the rebel flag waving; beneath it, another depicted Gaddafi as if he were bald.
Next to a table where vendors sold revolutionary trinkets and gear, two boys played table football in the shade of a colonnade as their friend watched.
Celebratory fire from high-caliber assault rifles echoed from hundreds of meters away on the other side of the square, and the hum of passing bullets could be heard overheard.
The crowd gathered around the trinket table didn’t seem to care as they pressed in around the assortment of revolutionary items. The vendors sold floppy hats (10 dinars), rebel-coloured nylon prayer mats (5 dinars), pins showing Libya and the peace sign in rebel colours (3 dinars) and “I love Libya” balloons (3 dinars).
To the side, a neatly dressed man in sunglasses, khaki trousers and a powder-blue Ralph Lauren polo shirt watched with amusement. He said he was a Croatian who had been living and doing business for a construction company in Libya for 18 months.
“Everything will be much better than before. It’s all open now,” he said, clasping his hands behind his back as he walked.
Then he reconsidered, pondering out loud about the role corruption, endemic to Gaddafi’s regime, might play as the National Transitional Council takes over.
“All Arab countries have this problem,” he said. “After the revolution, I think it’s going to be the same, the mentality. After 10 days, look what’s happened: nothing, there’s no water.”
The man, who declined to be named, said he would stay for a few more days to observe, then go on vacation. He said he would be thinking about continuing to do business in Libya.
‘Where is Abu Shafshoufa?‘
Sitting atop a rebel pick-up truck that had been armed with a heavy machine gun protected by a rounded shield of metal, 31-year-old Khaled Bakeer said he had returned to Benghazi from his job in Canada shortly after the uprising began.
He travelled to Misrata, fought for three months and arrived with his brigade in Tripoli last Saturday.
“On Friday, we had a big fight in Zlitan,” said Bakeer, as two bullet necklaces dangled in front of his chest. “Now I feel freedom. It’s like we got everything. We got Tripoli, soon we will get Gaddafi and his sons. Gaddafi is a terrorist worse than Osama bin Laden.”
Bakeer said he was “80 per cent” sure Gaddafi was hiding in the southern stronghold of Sabha. He wouldn’t risk fleeing to Sirte or Bani Walid, which are close to rebel forces, Bakeer said.
Bakeer’s brother-in-law, 54-year-old Mohammed el-Naas, drove up in a truck with his wife and children. He had lived in Canada until he moved back to Libya to work for Petrol Canada three years ago.
Getting Gaddafi, he said, would be an important assurance that the uprising had been victorious.
“He wants to continue hassling us and the new Arab Spring. He’s not happy with this,” Naas said. “Our concern now is speeding up the transition as fast as possible.”
Naas said he was pleased with the National Transitional Council.
“Many of the old people in Gaddafi’s government tried as much as they could to halt the demolition of the country. I know a few of them,” he said.
“We were fortunate to get this government within 10 days after the revolution … otherwise these revolutionaries would have no support.”
To the left, rebel fighters were singing songs and chanting. One of the most common, heard often on the streets of Tripoli in recent days, goes: Maleshy! Shafshoufa!
Shafshoufa refers to Gaddafi’s hair. It’s a word he used to describe his frizzy hairstyle and which Libyans have turned around on him. Maleshy means “I’m sorry.” The chant is a mocking send-off.
Khairy Tajouri, a 26-year-old fighter sitting on the cab of a truck, ended one chant by theatrically grabbing his head and yelling, “Where is Abu Shafshoufa?”