By Essam Mohamed and Asma Elourfi
For the first time in more than four decades, Libyans were free to mark the country’s Independence Day on Monday (December 24th).
Despite the insecurity that continues to cast a shadow on Benghazi, residents celebrated the 61st anniversary of their country with a gathering at al-Tahrir Square.
In Tripoli, residents turned out at Martyrs’ Square to watch a military parade, where dignitaries in the newly elected democratic government delivered remarks.
“We have today received a blessing and a grace from God almighty,” Interim Prime Minister Zidan said. “We have met today to celebrate this day anew. We’re celebrating Independence Day on which Libya won its independence, glory and prestige.”
The former regime did not recognise the day, instead replacing it with September 1st, the anniversary of Moamer Kadhafi’s coup d’état.
“The former regime has deprived us of seeing our flag and celebrating our independence and national anthem for four decades,” Zidan continued.
The Tripoli parade featured military bands playing several pieces. Units from the national army, including ground forces, marines, the air force, as well as police and national security forces all took part in the parade.
Military and police vehicles paraded past a stand especially set up for celebrating the occasion. Meanwhile, MiG-23, Mirage F-1, reconnaissance, training and police planes flew overhead.
A number of officials attended the celebration, including General National Congress head Mohamed Magarief, a number of MPs, a group of cabinet ministers and Libyan army chief Youssef al-Mangoush. In addition, a number of ambassadors, heads of diplomatic missions, and a group of revolutionary brigades and Libyan citizens also attended.
Prime Minister Zidan hailed former King Idris al-Senussi, saying he “realised unity and achieved independence”. He also saluted former heads of government in the modern state of Libya under King Idris, as well as MPs, army and police forces.
Zidan noted that the founder of modern Libya “urged us to preserve our independence because preserving it is more difficult than obtaining it”.
“We need to stop a bit and contemplate this sentence; preserving the achievements of the February 17th revolution , by resorting to reason and wisdom, seeking science and knowledge, and taking national interests into consideration, is an extremely important thing,” he added.
The interim premier also urged Libyans to support the government and to do their jobs, noting that the country needs to develop with their own hands.
“We want to build a modern state based on law, science and will. We need to be gentle on this revolution and to each other, and to help each other,” Zidan said. “We need to realise harmony, fraternity and love and all other meanings that bring us together.”
But in Benghazi, the site of several recent clashes between Islamists and security forces, the tone was less optimistic. Saleh al-Osheibi commented that the holiday had “no taste because of the recent events”.
“The atmosphere in the country is not a happy one, and we haven’t felt any independence,” al-Osheibi added. “All are lying and making mistakes. There is theft and the officials are wasting public money on their own pleasures. Where is that independence?! If it is found, some may be happy with it.”
“Conditions in this country won’t be fixed unless radical solutions are found for the south, especially the border and naturalisation files, etc.,” Idriss Jebji said. “This is because Libya’s security starts with southern Libya’s security.”