Marginalization inflames angry protests in Libya’s Sirte
Sirte was a city protected, even pampered, by the regime of Moamer Gathafi. But now, the fallen leader's forgotten hometown is simmering with anger for being sidelined in a "new" Libya.
It was in Sirte, 360 kilometres (220 miles) east of Tripoli, that the "King of Africa" sought refuge in August after rebels overwhelmed the capital.
And while loyalists fought fiercely to protect Sirte and their leader, two months later rebels found and killed Gathafi in the very city where he was born.
In one neighbourhood numbered "2," where the bloodiest battles raged between rebels and Gathafi loyalists, resentment is festering.
Just this week, a protest there against the "marginalisation" of Sirte went largely unnoticed across the nation.
"National unity cannot be achieved without compensation for damages, no exceptions. No to the marginalisation of Sirte," read one banner, left over from Tuesday's gathering.
"Where is reconstruction? No officials, no media," lamented another.
Sirte has paid dearly for offering sanctuary to the now-slain leader. Streets on end have been reduced to rubble, buildings gutted by shelling and are waiting to be razed.
Piles of garbage cover the streets of the city that once hosted meetings of top-tier international officials.
"No one has come to see about us," said Ibrahim Hreir, a university student.
"There were war crimes here too, but as it's Gathafi's turf nobody cares."
Ibrahim Abdullah fled Sirte on October 18 and returned only a few days ago, to find that his flat had been ransacked by the "thuwar," or revolutionaries.
"Everything is gone: our furniture, my wife's gold jewellery, my savings," Abdullah said.
"I think I will leave this city. Where? I don't know. God's world is vast," said the stone-faced man.
Like many other residents, Abdullah firmly believes that Sirte is being "punished" for its loyalty to Gathafi.
"The situation is very difficult," said Ahmed Korbaj, who heads a local council tasked with assessing damage done to the city. "There is no government action."
Korbaj estimates that between 40 and 60 percent of those who fled the fighting in Sirte have not yet returned due to the lack of reconstruction.
Today, two months after the battles ended, some homes still have no running water and owners were left to their own means to figure out how to restore power.
Worse still, Korbaj fears there may still be unexploded munitions in the rubble.
"The city is suffering," Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the National Transitional Council, said on Monday as he announced that the NTC was sending a delegation to "assess the situation and determine the needs" of Sirte.
Libya's new governing bodies have said post-war national reconciliation is one of their top priorities. But in Sirte, this will likely prove no easy task.
"What kind of reconciliation is it if they do not accept the opinions of others," asked Sirte resident Massud Abdelhamid.
"We have no desire for their reconciliation. They are liars," added another resident, who requested anonymity.
"They have wrought destruction and death. May God never forgive them."
Many in this defeated city remain faithful to the memory of Gathafi, a figure deplored by the majority of the Libyan population.
A popular slogan of supporters of the former regime still echoes here: "Allah, Moamer, Libya, that's all!"
And before they agree to any potential reconciliation between Gathafi's adversaries and loyalists, many in Sirte have one non-negotiable demand.
"The first condition for reconciliation is that the location of our leader's tomb be disclosed," said Tuhami Hafez, referring to the fact that Gathafi had been buried secretly in the desert.
"It is our right to know," he said vehemently, as dozens of men standing around nodded enthusiastically.
But demands like this continue to fuel resentment among Libyans in other cities.
"They deserve what happened to them; it'll teach them a lesson," said one Tripoli resident passing through Sirte.
"Maybe they'll get a little taste of what the rest of Libya had to endure."