By Wil Crisp.
Tripoli, 15 February 2103:
Traffic was at a standstill in Martyrs Square this evening as revellers jammed themselves bumper to . . .[restrict]bumper. It was the same all across the city. Drivers dangled toddlers out of their windows and fired rockets out of their sunroofs as they crawled around central Tripoli, horns blaring.
Despite concerns about violence and despite intense security as a result, with checkpoints at almost every main intersection in central Tripoli, tens of thousands of residents took to the streets of the capital this afternoon and evening, Friday, to celebrate the second anniversary of the 17 February Revolution.
It is a three-day affair this year, partly because of the decision in Benghazi to mark the 15 February date when protestors there rose up against the Qaddafi regime two days ahead of plans, and partly because this year 17 February is a Sunday, making for long weekend in which to celebrate.
The streets were already festooned with flags, Libyan and Amazigh – and this year there has been a noticeable increase in the latter compared to last year’s celebrations.
Even the security officers watching over celebrations in Martyrs’ Square this evening were in a jovial mood with some putting flowers down the barrels of their guns and others proudly holding examples of the new, redesigned one-dinar note to passing cars.
“We’ve got new dinars and we’re making a new Libya,” one said grinning. “Bit by bit the country is getting better.”
But beneath the ecstatic celebrations there was also a melancholic aspect for many of the revellers. One former rebel fighter told the Libya Herald remembering the suffering of the revolution was also an important part of the anniversary.
“When I walk down Shara Istiqlal (Independence Street) like this with hundreds of people all on the road I remember very clearly the events of February two years ago when innocent protestors came under attack on this very street and died. But I am happy because I believe those deaths weren’t in vain.”
There was one protest today though in Tripoli. Former Revolutionary Nader El Gadi took a stand against the General National Congress in Algeria Square but he said the turnout for the demonstration was not as big as he had hoped.
“I was all by myself in the end,” he said. “I’m not even sure if anyone noticed. But I’m still glad I did it. The government isn’t doing the right thing by the people. It’s not looking after the poor and it’s sidelining young people.”
For many in Tripoli Friday’s celebrations were just a warm up for the main event on Sunday – the two-year anniversary of the original ‘Day of Rage’ that saw protests erupt all over the country and it promises to be an even bigger day of celebration.
“This is nothing,” one reveller said. gesturing at the hoards of people waving flags and setting off fireworks in the middle of Martyrs’ Square. “When the 17th comes we’re going to party twice as hard.”
It was the same in almost all Tripoli. Only in Abu Sleem, noted for having backed Qaddafi during the revolution, were celebrations muted and few flags in evidence. In contrast, places such as Suq Al-Juma, Tajoura and most of all, Fashloum, were in carnival mood. The night sky lit up with fireworks and more than the occasional celebrationary gunfire.
Across the country too, there were celebration long into the night – putting paid to all the suggestions in the run-up to the anniversary that there could be trouble.