Violence still rules in Libya on the third anniversary of Gaddafi's death

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Marco Werman: Three years ago today, deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed by rebels. Since then, Libya has not known much peace. Alright, let’s not mince words. Libya is mired in violence as rival factions and militias battle each other for power. Reporter Marine Olivesi covered the revolution. In fact, she was one of the first journalists to see Gaddafi and his son dead inside a garage in the city of Misrata. She was taken there by a local businessman who told her he was “hosting a party.” Marine was back in Libya recently and she met the businessman again. I asked her to tell me about him.


Marine Olivesi: His name is Anwar Suwan, he’s a prominent businessman in Misrata, and I didn’t know him before that day. I was driven on the outskirts of town by someone who had tipped me off. I had no idea I’d found both Gaddafi and his son lying on the floor dead. I spoke with Anwar only a few minutes that night. It’s only the summer when I was back in Libya that we reconnected and I had a chance to talk at length about what had happened that day and how he ended up hosting a dead Gaddafi. Basically Anwar had been supplying the frontlines for month, so when a Misrati brigade caught Gaddafi there, the head of the brigade didn’t call the military council. He didn’t call Libya’s transitional authorities. Instead, he wrung up his friend, Anwar, the businessman who for months had brought food and weapons to the fighters. The head of the brigade brought Gaddafi’s body straight to his house. Anwar told me about one conversation he had with fighters months earlier through walkie talkie during the siege of Misrata. You can listen to him.


Anwar Suwan: When the fighting was over and things like that, they used to get a bit bored and everything, they’ve got nothing better to do. So they’d start calling me on the radio. It’d be things like “What are we having for lunch today? When is it going to be ready?” Things like that. Then I remember one night, one guy calls up and he said “Where’s Gaddafi?” I call and I say “I have no idea.” Then this other guy calls in and he says “We want Gaddafi. Are you going to get Gaddafi for us?” I promised them that if they just continued to fight, I would get Gaddafi for them. Then that night when I got that call that Gaddafi was dead, I called them all up and said “He’s in my house. Come on, you can have him.”


Werman: And that led to you, Marine, going with Anwar Suwan. You were one of the first Western journalists in that room to see those two bodies.


Olivesi: That expression when we say there’s electricity in the air, that’s the best way I can describe the atmosphere that night there. It was electric. The men, women were crying, shouting, praying. There was this palpable sense of relief that it was finally over. They got what they wanted -- Gaddafi out. And even better, as many told me back then, Gaddafi dead.


Werman: Libya has been though on the verge of a new civil war pretty much since Gaddafi died. Is any of the fighting going on today connected to allegiances to Gaddafi?


Olivesi: Yeah, most of the fighting is between two cities that played the biggest role in the revolution there in 2011, Misrata and Zintan. The Misratis had captured and killed Gaddafi, the Zintanis had captured and kept alive one of Gaddafi’s sons. Both Misratis and Zintanis had basically shared the spoils of the revolution, the big pie that is Libya’s capital, Tripoli. There was a certain balance of power that came out of it. But then there were elections in June, which results were not really to the liking of the Misratis. It was the parliament that was conservative, Islamic-leaning and right after the results of the election came out, the Misratis went on the offensive and they accused the Zintanis of corruption, of being remnants of the Gaddafi regime. The clashes turned Tripoli into a warzone again. Most of the fighting now has more to do with former rebel fighters fighting for control over the capital and control over the political transition.


Werman: When Gaddafi took power in 1969, Libya was one of the poorest nations in Africa. But a lot of people say that by the time that he was killed, Gaddafi had turned Libya into one of Africa’s most wealthiest nations. So, are people in Libya asking whether the country was better off with him or without him these days?


Olivesi: Most of the Libyans I’ve met are not really regretting Gaddafi at all. You’re right in the sense that during his role, there was some kind of free education, free healthcare system that improved the lives of ordinary Libyans. But for the rest, the country was run in a very erratic way. Entrepreneurs, for instance, told me that just setting up a private company or store would require pulling a lot of strings, knowing the right people. There was nothing reliable in the justice system. At the end of the day, unlike Tunisia or Egypt, it’s not really poverty that drove a lot of people to rise up against the regime, but mostly a desire to have their voices heard.


Werman: Our colleague Marine Olivesi speaking with us about the third anniversary of the death of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Marine, thank you very much.


Olivesi: My pleasure.