By Asmaa Elourfi and Essam Zubeir
Libyans on Friday will celebrate the first anniversary of the February 17 revolution that toppled the Moamer Kadhafi regime.
Benghazi will host the official commemoration, but events remembering the victory and honouring the martyrs of the revolution are already under way in towns across Libya.
“Instructions were passed to the prime minister, the ministers of defence and interior, and the commanders of revolutionary battalions and armed formations to keep the celebrations simple in all cities and to prevent military parades of any type, ” National Transitional Council (NTC) spokesperson Mohammed al-Harizi said.
Mohammed al-Haramain, Third Deputy to the Prime Minister, sent a message to local councils asking for co-operation “to stage these celebrations without armed manifestations and arbitrary firing of bullets into the air, which threatens citizens’ safety”.
Al-Haramain appealed to the local leaders for their help “to achieve the highest levels of stability and security, put an end to armed manifestations in our country, and to make our celebrations a source of joy and happiness for all categories in society, whether old or young.”
Former revolutionaries staged a parade in the heart of Tripoli on Tuesday evening, moving throughout the capital and entering Martyrs’ Square from all directions. According to the marchers, the goal was to warn any lingering Kadhafi supporters against making attempts to undermine the revolution.
Events turned more celebratory on Wednesday.
One young woman named Mohja told Magharebia: “The streets are crowded and the people are happy. I pray to God to make our happiness last and become even better. God willing, things will settle down, the government will be active and deal with urgent files, and seek to develop the country.”
“In the area of al-Dhahra at the heart of Tripoli, we started decorating the streets and the main square in the area with flags and balloons carrying the independence flag,” said Abdul Razzaq al-Bakhbakhi. “Young people took to the streets last night, singing and chanting ‘God is great’. The first martyr in Tripoli, Ayman al-Toumi, was a resident of the area, so his family will be honoured.”
Several people noted a change in the general tone of festivities. “This celebration is different from what took place under Kadhafi,” said Ali al-Mahrush. “In the past, holidays were organised by the state, but now people buy everything on their own without any conditions or fears.”
As proof, he told Magharebia: “My children are waiting at home for me to bring them a large independence flag and balloons, which we will release in Martyrs’ Square!”
Large, illuminated balloons are scheduled to be launched throughout the country on February 17th at 8:00 PM, Tripoli time. These “Freedom Balloons” are intended to show that Libyans are united as one people.
The balloons will be released at Martyrs’ Square and Al-Hanshir in Tripoli, Freedom Square in Benghazi, Souk al-Hara in Az-Zawiyah, and several other areas. The names of martyrs are expected to be written on these balloons.
Schoolteacher Layla al-Alwani told Magharebia that schools also planned celebrations on Thursday after second period. “We’ve prepared a big programme at our school,” she said, “featuring music, monologues and sketches.”
Citizen volunteers are offering assistance to provide security and to direct traffic during the various celebrations.
One volunteer, Essam al-Ammari, plans to help out after the end of his shift at a bakery in Tajoura. “We will hit with an iron fist anyone who dares to threaten Libya’s security or happiness,” he said. “We fought them when they had weapons and ammunition, so how about now, when they are scattered and unequipped?”
For many Libyans, celebrating the anniversary of the revolution is more about looking to the country’s future than dwelling on the past.
Ali Moussa, an employee in Derna, said: “We were able to spend 40 years of our lives with crazy Kadhafi; now we’ll spend the rest rebuilding what he destroyed. We have optimistic ambitions to reach ‘square one’ as soon as possible. This is because we’re starting out before square one… the next generation will remember us for our good deeds, and this is satisfactory in itself.”
Salah al-Harabi in Benghazi was concerned about the tone of discussion in Libya since the end of widespread fighting. “The revolution has triumphed, and it must be supported,” he said. “Where are the slogans that Libya is united, that Libya is a nation that accommodates all Libyans?”
Ongoing fighting and delays in political change and reconstruction haven’t stopped many Libyans from staying positive.
Ayman Rafie, a young man, said: “I’m very optimistic in spite of the hurdles we’re facing, and I believe that the future will be much better than the past. We just need a little bit of patience and vision from the people… today we’re in a safe harbour and good is ahead of us.”