Ten years after Gaddafi’s death, a Libyan city still yearns for his rule

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A huge portrait of Muammar Gaddafi marks the entrance of Bani Walid: 10 chaotic years since the death of the Libyan dictator, the residents of the desert city still yearn for his rule.

“Muammar Gaddafi is a symbol,” said resident Mohamed Dairi, in his fifties. “We will always support him.”

Unfinished concrete buildings cover the city of some 100,000 people on the edge of the Sahara desert, many of them marked by bullets and mortar shells fired during more than a decade of conflict.

The rebels killed Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte on October 20, 2011, months after the NATO-backed rebellion that ended his four-decade rule.

Residents of Bani Walid, a stronghold of the Warfala tribe, the country’s biggest pillar and key to the Gaddafi government, had supported him to the bitter end.

Many combatants from the city were killed, and more died in later battles when rival militia groups attacked.

Today, a dusty wind whips through the city center, where a decommissioned tank overlooks a dry fountain and a table with images of “martyrs” hangs above a pile of mortar shells.

“Muammar will remain in our hearts forever,” one resident told AFP.

’10 years of injustice ‘

Bani Walid is located in an oasis about 170 kilometers (105 miles) southeast of Libya’s capital Tripoli.

An imposing government building has been reduced to a battle-scarred shell, but the green flags of the Gaddafi era still flutter in the desert wind.

The red, black and green flag of the pre-Gaddafi years, adopted again by the rebels in 2011, is nowhere to be seen.

Residents are open about their nostalgia for their government.

“Before 2011, Libyans were the masters of their destiny. Since then we have seen 10 years of injustice, bombings, assassinations and kidnappings,” said Mohammad Abi Hamra, who wore a wristwatch with Gaddafi’s face.

“The revolution is bound to bring change for the better. But what has happened since 2011 has not been a real revolution, it has been a conspiracy against Libya,” he said.

The 10th anniversary of Gaddafi’s death comes as the country prepares for the December elections, part of a United Nations-led peace process that some hope will help start a new and more peaceful chapter in Libya’s history.

‘We had security’

But many in Bani Walid are skeptical, seeing more hope in the old regime than in the country’s current political forces.

“The reason this city is so attached to the old regime is that the 2011 revolution brought nothing but wars, catastrophes, division of the country and violations of its sovereignty,” said engineer Fethi al-Ahmar.

“We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing missing in Libya today.”

Journalist Ahmed Abouhriba agreed.

“Gaddafi was not a dictator, but the guardian of citizenship,” he said.

For Abouhriba, the state of the country’s economy, ravaged by inflation and conflict, is clearer proof that life was better under Gaddafi.

He said Bani Walid’s attachment to the former leader extends to his son Seif al-Islam, whose face appears on posters on city walls.

In July, Seif al-Islam gave a rare interview to the New York Times in which he suggested he could run for president.

“How can we support new political parties that have not built anything since 2011?” Abouhriba asked.

“We remain loyal to Gaddafi and his son Seif al-Islam.”

(AFP)