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In July 2012, great numbers of the country’s six million people braved the lawless streets—where alarming numbers of weapons have proliferated since the revolution—to register and vote in the first free national election in half a century.
As multiple forces assert power in different parts of the country, however, the old regional divisions have reemerged. Khalifa Haftar, Colonel Qaddafi’s old commander-in-chief, who led Libya’s army into a brutal but woefully unsuccessful invasion of Chad in 1987, appeals to those nostalgic for the old order.
(On September 19, Seif al-Islam Qaddafi appeared in court in the western town of Zintan, where local authorities have refused to hand him over to Tripoli, let alone the International Criminal Court, in defiance of a UN resolution.) Mahmoud Jibril, a clean-shaven economist who led the revolution’s first government, is another prospect.
While he emerged triumphant from last year’s election as the leader of the largest party, the National Forces Alliance, he has been barred by a political isolation law prohibiting former senior officials under Qaddafi from holding office.
A Western spy recalls meeting him during the revolution in a Libyan oil company’s offices in Benghazi, where he proudly displayed his battle plans for the assault on Tripoli on a tourist roadmap of Libya.
It is perhaps a measure of how close Libya is to breaking apart that two years after ousting one dictator, many Libyans are craving another.
Rapacious brigades of armed volunteers, who are based in Misrata and Benghazi in the east, and the creaking military inherited from the old regime, which is based in the capital city of Tripoli and the west, are hurtling toward a new civil war, and the country’s ineffectual authorities seem unable to stop them.
Might the agent have a few radios to spare, he asked, so that he could talk to the front?
His convoy continues to circle Libya like a medieval travelling court.
He turned down the post of defense minister following Tripoli’s fall, and in recent months has declined repeated calls to become commander-in-chief, opting instead for the bit part of military attaché to the United Arab Emirates.