In a New Libya, Racing to Shed Ties to QaddafiMuammar el-Qaddafi’s propaganda machine, arranging transportation to ferry foreign journalists to staged rallies, ensuring that they never left their hotels without official escorts and raising his own voice to cheer the Libyan leader.
The day that rebels took Tripoli, Mr. Saad immediately switched sides.
Now he works for the rebels’ provisional government, coordinating transportation for its officials and insisting that his previous support for Colonel Qaddafi was just business. “My uncle and my son were soldiers for the revolution,” he said in an interview. “Everyone will be happy now. Everything is changed now. Everyone is free.”
As the curtain falls on Colonel Qaddafi’s Tripoli, many of its supporting actors are rushing to pick up new roles with the rebels, the very same people they were obliged not long ago to refer to as “the rats.” Many Libyans say the ease with which former Qaddafi supporters have switched sides is a testament to the pervasive cynicism of the Qaddafi era, when dissent meant jail or death, job opportunities depended on political connections, and almost everyone learned to wear two faces to survive within the system.
That cynicism may now prove to be Tripoli’s saving grace. After months of a brutal crackdown and a bitter civil war, in a country with little history of unity where autonomous brigades of fighters still roam the capital, citizens have been unexpectedly willing to set aside their grievances against functionaries of the Qaddafi government. Everyone knows that almost everyone who stayed out of jail during four decades of Colonel Qaddafi’s rule was to some extent complicit.
Indeed, the thin veneer of support helps explain why the loyalist forces who had terrorized the city crumbled so swiftly when it became clear that the end was near, averting the expected blood bath. Though loyalists still hold out in pockets around the country, and there have been episodes of retaliatory violence and looting, Tripoli, the capital, changed hands and returned to peace in a matter of days.
“The way the system worked, everyone had to be part of it — all of us,” said Adl el-Sanusi, a former official of Colonel Qaddafi’s Foreign Ministry who is now working for the provisional government’s Foreign Ministry. “If we say, ‘Get rid of whoever was part of the system,’ we would have to get rid of the whole population,” he said.
Now, he said, many of those former loyalists “are more revolutionary than anyone else!”
Rebel officials have said for months that they would try to avoid the mistakes made in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, when United States officials disbanded the military and barred all former members of the ruling Baath Party — many of Iraq’s most experienced professionals — from working in any public-sector job.
Instead, the Libyan rebels said, they will seek retribution, in a courtroom, against only the most notorious Qaddafi government officials, those who oversaw torture or killings, egregiously enriched themselves or, in the case of the captured television host Hala Misrati, led the propaganda war on state television.
The rebel leaders pledged to welcome back most of the bureaucrats and other midlevel functionaries, and so far, former senior officials of Colonel Qaddafi’s government say the provisional government appears to be keeping its word. To underscore that point, the rebel leadership held a ceremony on Tuesday to hand control of a major natural gas plant to the same manager who was responsible for its security under Colonel Qaddafi.
“There are very few instances of revenge,” said Abdulmajeed el-Dursi, the former chief of the Qaddafi-era foreign media operation, sipping coffee at a cafe full of rebels and talking about opening a media services company.
“It is legitimate, all these things they are doing — freedom of the press, the rule of law,” Mr. Dursi added. “We always thought it was the right thing to do.”
Officials at the rebels’ detention centers around the city say they have sent scores of Colonel Qaddafi’s former soldiers and supporters back to their homes after they have turned in their weapons, and even some of the former soldiers now insist that they are revolutionaries at heart.
Ahmed el-Naeli was a soldier from Tripoli captured and jailed weeks ago by rebels in the Nafusah Mountains, where a reporter for The New York Times gave him a business card. On Tuesday, he called to say that he, too, had changed sides. After his capture, Mr. Naeli said, “I turned around and joined the revolution.”
Officials at local police stations say hundreds of officers are returning to work, usually in their home neighborhoods without incident.
They are “well accepted” because local residents understand they were only part of the system, said Abdou Shafi Hassan, 34, a former officer who began working with the rebels months ago, smuggling weapons and plastic explosives for them until he was caught and sent to jail.
Now he is an acting police chief in his neighborhood, Tajura, where he is recruiting dozens of former officers back to work. “They are the ones who are bringing the security to the city,” he said.
A top associate of the Qaddafi government’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, cast aside any pretense of loyalty when he offered to sell a Western journalist a series of secret tape recordings he had made of his former boss trying to bribe journalists for favorable coverage.
The most famous turncoat was Gen. Albarrani Shkal, a senior officer who was in charge of a large army unit that fought the rebels. About a month before Tripoli fell, officials of the new provisional government said, General Shkal began secretly collaborating with the rebels. The rebels instructed him to stay in his job so that when their troops entered Tripoli he could order his own soldiers to disperse. “He saved a lot of lives,” Mr. Sanusi of the Foreign Ministry said.
More than 50 Libyan ambassadors serving abroad abandoned Colonel Qaddafi as soon as the uprising began, and Mr. Sanusi said that many others sought to defect in the following months. The rebel leaders told them they could do more for the cause if they stayed in their jobs, he said.
“So many people had turned, that it really ended up a true popular revolution,” Mr. Sanusi said.
Youssef M. Sherif, one of Libya’s most prominent writers, said he tracked the waning days of Colonel Qaddafi’s government by the wages it paid young people to cheer in front of the state television cameras. At first, he said, they were paid about $360, then $140, then $35 and then the money ran out.
When the money ran out, so did the crowds.
Mr. Sherif said he asked people why they accepted such money from a tyrant. “ ‘Better I spend it than him!’ ” they would say.
Salem el-Ajelli, 39, an unemployed resident of the Abu Salim neighborhood where rebels fought a fierce firefight to eradicate the last bastion of support for Colonel Qaddafi in the city, said that he and his neighbors would sometimes be paid $30 a day to cheer for the colonel.
“Most of us are just regular people who did not really care about Qaddafi or not Qaddafi,” Mr. Ajelli said. “We just worrying about getting by day by day.”