“We can’t talk,” said a 50-year-old housewife in the Tripoli suburb of Jila. She said she and her loyalist friends do not dare reveal their views in public. “If I go out now and say I like Gaddafi, they will arrest me maybe, or shoot me.” Like other Gaddafi supporters in this article, she did not want her name used because she feared retribution.
For people who preferred the old Libya, the capital’s streets and workplaces feel like hostile territory. Radios blast revolution rap songs, children skip down the street singing the pre-Gaddafi national anthem and everything — from tree trunks to freeway overpasses to clothing to slushy drinks — is saturated with the red, black and green of the new order.
Although Gaddafi loyalists still hold some pockets of the country, most notably the ousted leader’s home town of Sirte, weekend advances there by anti-Gaddafi forces underscore the difficult environment facing supporters of the old regime.
In the hospital where Huda, a 29-year-old doctor, works, a large portrait of Gaddafi lies on the floor of the entryway. “If you don’t walk on it, they curse at you,” she said of the guards stationed there.
In the past five years, since sanctions against Libya were lifted, life had been improving, Huda said wistfully. Now, she has no faith that the new government cares about her rights.
“They are no better than Gaddafi. If I go with a green flag into Green Square, I will disappear in five seconds,” she said. “There is no democracy. It’s a big lie.”
Such fears have some basis in reality. With militias in Tripoli reporting to separate commanders, the arrests they make are often arbitrary, and suspected loyalists are held without due process, said Daniel Williams, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, which released a Sept. 30 report detailing prisoner abuse by revolutionary militias.
Sometimes, arrests are “based on people coming in and saying, ‘I know so and so, he has a weapon and he supported Gaddafi,’ ” Williams said, adding that people of all ages, including some women, are being held.
A spokesman for the Transitional National Council said the right to political dissent will be guaranteed by the yet-to-be-written constitution. But he added that now is not the time to be publicly supporting Gaddafi while the country is still at war and he is still at large.
“We waited 42 years, during which we couldn’t say we didn’t like Gaddafi without being killed or maimed for life,” said the spokesman, Jalal al-Gallal. If the housewife can wait the estimated two years for a new constitution and elections, “we’ll be bloody grateful,” he said.