By Sami Zaptia
Tripoli, April 12
The low flying MIG 21 Libyan Air Force fighter jets from the Tobruk Freedom Squadron heard over . . .[restrict]the skies of Tripoli continued in their maneuvers on Thursday April 12.
These low flights have startled inhabitants of Tripoli and some parents have complained that their children were frightened by the sounds of the jets, associating them with the NATO bombing raids of last year.
During Wednesday’s press conference, the government’s official spokesperson, Nasser Al-Mana, acknowledged the overhead flights and admitted that he had received many mobile calls by startled Tripolitanians. He then reassured the general public that these jets were friends and not foes.
Despite acknowledging the fact, and despite receiving numerous complaints from frightened members of the public, the authorities continued with these low flying maneuvers the next day, Thursday April 12.
Libya Herald has received telephone calls enquiring about the justification for the continuation of these alarming low flights.
The decision by the authorities to continue the low-flights has led many to speculate as to the real purpose of the manoeuvers, despite the official spokesperson’s claim that it was the Tobruk Freedom Squadron wishing to “salute the city of Tripoli”.
Many have interpreted the manoeuvers as a show of force, or even a threat, by the government to non complying thuwar after Tuesday’s demonstration in front of the Prime Minister’s office turned violent.
A group of thuwar had started yet another demonstration in the car park of the prime minister’s office and their overspill had closed off the main Sika Road. This was not the first time that the prime minister’s office had been enveloped by demonstrators for various causes, and by citizens from all the corners of Libya. It was also not the first time that the important road into town centre that runs immediately opposite the prime minister’s office, Sika Road, had been blocked for a part of the day.
We have grown used to Sika Road being reduced to a crawling single lane and to these regular demonstrations in the new democratic, multifaceted post February 17 Libya. In fact, even yours truly has had his share of disturbing Mr Al-Kib’s eardrums. We usually either wait for him to come out and meet the demonstrators, or a small delegation is allowed in to meet him to present their grievances.
However, Tuesday’s demonstration by this particular set of apparent thuwar demonstrating against the suspension of their payments took a turn for the worse when weapons were fired, both outside as well as inside the main lobby.
This caused a mini panic and there was a mini state of alert as the Ministry of Defence National Army was called into action. Tension continued for the rest of Tuesday and most of Wednesday. Most meetings at the building were cancelled as it was surrounded by National Army forces.
The media were therefore expecting that the usual 7pm Wednesday official press conference would be cancelled, and we were pleasantly surprised to receive the usual email confirming that it would go ahead as usual.
Nevertheless, it was noticeable that the tone of the official spokesperson had changed qualitatively when referring to the thuwar. The spokesperson started to refer often to the, hitherto almost sacred thuwar as the “so-called thuwar”.
Their falling status was further confirmed by the announcement — seen as long overdue by many critics of this government — that, henceforth official Ministry of Defence forces had been given clearance to shoot at anyone firing at them.
The spokesperson also “criminalized” the acts of the demonstrating thuwar — that is the act of firing at the prime minister’s office, labeling it an attack on the sovereignty of the state and the office of the prime minister.
The attack on the prime minister’s office by what could in reality turn out to be a few or even just one single individual, could be the turning point in the relationship between the freedom fighters that ousted the old regime and the authorities.
This was evidenced by the announcement at the press conference that both the National Transitional Council and prime minister’s office will henceforth be guarded by the Ministry of Defence’s National Army — and no longer by the thuwar.
This is quite symbolic, and could prove to be a watershed in this complicated relationship between the hoards of mostly young fighters, the thuwar, and the new transitionally legitimate authorities — the NTC and its executive arm the interim Government of Al-Kib.
There is no doubt that there is a palatable change of mood amongst the general public. The average man on the street is now yearning for normalcy. They are keen for stability, safety, security and for their everyday lives to get better.
It was after all, partially as a result of the need for better education, better health, better transport, better housing, etc., etc., etc. — the everyday mundane things — that the general public overwhelmingly backed the Revolution.
The thousands of young freedom fighters or thuwar received lavish praise for their pivotal role in unseating the old despot. However, this fame had gone to the heads of many who saw it as their right to be rewarded amply — perhaps without limits — for overthrowing the old tyrant.
As time has passed, the lustre of those achievements is beginning to fade for the average man on the street. Some of the almost mafia or cowboy antics of some alleged thuwar has earned them negative publicity.
It is true that a bad apple often spoils the whole cart, but unfortunately for the many honourable and brave thuwar, the reality is that the negative actions of the few have tarnished the reputation of the many.
The refusal of many thuwar to hand over government buildings, including the most famous of all, Tripoli International Airport, has lost them much support. And the present government, under increasing criticism for not confronting them more forcefully, has finally got the message and started to act.
It will be interesting to see how this new relationship develops and how things pan out over the next few months with the May Tripoli Local Council and the June national constitutional elections coming up. Let’s hope that the actions of the government send a clear and load signal.
The time of the gun is over. It’s time for civil and civic life. It’s time for ballot boxes and ballot papers. It’s time for the conflict – the peaceful conflict – of ideas, thoughts, policies and philosophies. It’s time for the symbolic pencil and pen, the calculator, the iPad and iPhone and computer. It’s time to look forward and not look back. It’s time for progress and development.