“We will die before we let them open it again,” said Sepany, who was a notary before the revolution.
Libya, awash in cheery yellow wildflowers a year after the Arab Spring, is learning a bleak lesson: Unity does not bloom easily in a region where decision-making has long been concentrated in the hands of the few and where iron-fisted autocrats for decades papered over deep cultural, religious and ethnic differences.
In neighboring Egypt, the year since President Hosni Mubarak’s fall has been marked by breakdowns in law and order and by tensions between hard-line Islamists and secular liberals. In Syria, religious affiliation has emerged as an important dividing line as the army does battle with rebel forces, stoking fears of a broader war.
And in Libya, five months after the death of the man who managed to hold this country together by brute force, people are beginning to wonder whether there is any other way to do it. Clashes this past week between rival tribes in the southern oasis city of Sabha killed 147 people, officials said. Such has been the chaos that no one in Libya would be surprised if a trash spat ends in a gunfight.
With the dump closed since December, Tripoli residents have taken to tossing their trash bags on the grounds of Gaddafi’s former palace. But at least another million tons of garbage is piled along city streets, creating a looming environmental crisis, according to Adnan El-Gherwi, the volunteer head of Tripoli’s Executive Council, which is attempting to run the city.
The old landfill — built by Gaddafi 11 years ago — generated complaints among residents that it polluted waterways and bred disease. The city has promised to build a new, sanitary landfill as soon as possible and to pay for clean water, a health clinic and other aid to families near the old one. But El-Gherwi insists the old dump must reopen, at least temporarily. And he won’t rule out the use of force.
“You gave Gaddafi 11 years, and you don’t want to give even one year to your new government?” El-Gherwi said in frustration over the go-it-alone attitude at the center of this and many other standoffs. “We have got to learn to work as one people.”
Instead, rival militiamen, some of them intoxicated and most of them unemployed, battle over turf in the capital. In the western town of Tawergha, an entire population of black Libyans was evicted by fighters from a neighboring city. And calls by the oil-rich eastern part of the country for greater autonomy from the central government led to an armed clash in Benghazi, raising, for some, the specter of partition.