Libya's Slow And Bloody Path Toward Stability

The Libyan uprising against Moammar Gadhafi was launched three years ago this month. The post-revolutionary situation has gone from bad to worse, with militias overrunning the government in some Libyan cities.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This month marks the third anniversary of Libya's uprising against a brutal dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. After a bloody civil war, he was ousted and later killed - and now Libya is trying to rebuild itself. But the process has been slow. The divided nation still has a weak government and is awash with weapons. NPR's Leila Fadel has just returned from Tripoli and joins us from Cairo. Leila, thanks so much for being with us.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Let me begin with this. A Libyan general yesterday announced a military takeover that apparently wasn't. So, what happened?

FADEL: Well, basically, it was a television-only coup. He came on television saying that government is no longer in power, that parliament is no longer in power and their troops have taken the buildings. But on the ground, people were drinking cappuccinos. There were no forces. There is no military to command. And so it became a sort of a source of laughter and derision among Libyans, looking at a country that doesn't even have a military and former military commanders trying to overthrow a government that barely functions.

SIMON: And what does this tell us perhaps about the state of the Libyan government now and what drives society there?

FADEL: Well, this is a country really with no state institutions. Gaddafi left behind no state institutions. And Libyans describe their government as a face with no backing. There are no security forces. There are no centralized institutions. And people are really out at sea by themselves, having to protect themselves, having to help themselves, and the economy is really battered. So, people don't see this government as anything but a weak face. And the country is extremely divided - some against this government, some with it, and also the parliament, the same thing.

SIMON: Leila, you've been going back and forth to Libya in these three years since Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and was killed. Help us appreciate what it's like for Libyans to live and work there today.

FADEL: On the surface in the capital, things are normal. People are going to restaurants, drinking cappuccinos at the cafes. But ultimately, this is a country that's kind of like the wild, wild west. There are no centralized forces so gunfights break out between militias left over at the time of the uprising against Gadhafi. There are so many weapons in the streets. We were out reporting one day in a western town called Zawiya. We come out of a military camp and there's a huge gun battle between two tribes angry because two men got in a fight - one was killed - and nobody intervened. You're seeing mothers evacuating their children from school. It is literally everybody for themselves right now.

SIMON: Which I'm assuming must make it difficult to go to work in peace, to send your children to school in peace, to live your life in security.

FADEL: That's right. A lot of families who have the option, who have the money are sending their families abroad. If they have work in Libya, they're leaving, if they have that option, because ultimately you may be walking down the street and then get abducted. There are so many families who will say my brother-in-law is missing. We don't know where he is. And they can't call the government. There are no security forces to say, hey, there's been an abduction. So, that's life in Libya.

SIMON: Libyans vote next week to elect a committee to draft a new constitution for the country. Do you get the impression that Libyans take this as a sign that things will get better?

FADEL: Well, ultimately, nothing has happened. Libya doesn't know what type of government it will have, has no constitution three years on that governs the land. And so there's a lot less excitement about these elections coming up, people really feeling like they voted last time for this parliament and nothing has happened. So, there isn't - you don't feel excitement in the street about the democratic process.

SIMON: NPR's Leila Fadel speaking with us from Cairo. Thanks so much.

FADEL: Thank you.

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