SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There was hope in Libya and for Libya around the world after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown four years ago, but today Libya is a country torn apart. There are now two competing governments in different cities, each with their own parliament and their own armed forces. A traveler needs a visa from one government to land in Tripoli, then a so-called landing permission to fly east to the other government's territory, and you have to hopscotch around jihadist-controlled areas along the way. NPR's Leila Fadel just returned from a trip to Libya. She joins us now from Cairo. Thanks very much for being with us.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: Fill us in on this. You began in Tripoli. We kind of think of that as the capital. It's now one of two or three capitals. Who's in charge in Tripoli?
FADEL: Well, in Tripoli it's an umbrella group called Libya Dawn, which is basically loosely affiliated militias and the government and parliament that allies with those militias.
SIMON: And what's it like there?
FADEL: Well, the government really wants to make the case to the world that this is a safe place, that they need to be given support, but it doesn't feel that way. The streets empty out completely at night. The main mall of the city's burned down. And honestly you just kind of feel scared that if something does happen there's no one to call. There are very few diplomatic missions still operating in Tripoli. The U.N. presence is gone, and there's really not a centralized security force. And the checkpoints that are on the streets at night are masked gunmen and you're not really sure who they are. And the latest news was a five-star hotel was attacked that killed at least 10 people, including Americans and - an American and other foreigners.
SIMON: From Tripoli you flew east to the other capital, a city called Baida. Who's in charge there? What's that like?
FADEL: There is an alliance under a former general, Khalifa Haftar, who's taken a lot of the old officers from the old army under him. And he began what he describes as an anti-Islamist, anti-extremist operation in the East. And now this side of the country, it's a smaller town, has more of the feel of a security state with a lot of checkpoints. We were briefly taken by the police when we arrived because they didn't understand why'd we traveled from the West to the East and we had to call a low-level government official to come take us out. And when he did get us out he did say to us, listen, you have to understand it's sensitive. We're two countries now and you came from the enemy's side. And on top of all this fighting between the two sides, extremism is basically growing because of the polarization and the so-called Islamic State is feeding off that polarization. So you need to jump around areas where ISIS has now taken control to get to the relatively safe zones of Libya.
SIMON: How does this affect the people who live in Libya?
FADEL: Well, many just feel really stuck in the middle waiting for the violence to stop. We met a salesman/taxi driver/entrepreneur at the airport in Baida and he says that when he goes to the west side of the country they accuse him of being pro-Haftar, so he feels really in danger. When he comes back to the east they accuse him of being an Islamist, an extremist, and so he doesn't feel safe there. So people feel very stuck in the middle as politicians fight over power and resources. And in this very wealthy country now electricity is scarce, water comes in and out, there's a huge amount of displacement, huge fuel lines caused by the conflict. Tourist villages in Tripoli - there was one tourist village that went from being a place where people are supposed to visit and enjoy the beach to a place where the displaced have come to find refuge.
SIMON: Leila, there were such hopes four years ago and people must wonder, are things really better?
FADEL: Well, right now they're not. There's no centralized power. The men with - that picked up arms to fight Gaddafi four years ago never put them down. There are loosely allied militias that are divided by region, by ideology, by tribe, that control different parts of the country - different city states basically. And we went to a hospital in Baida and we talked to a technician in the dialysis section of the hospital, and he told us how his niece died because they couldn't find a small tube that was needed to filter the blood for a transfusion. It wasn't found anywhere in the country that they could get to. She was only 4 days old and he said to us this was one example of so many tragedies across the country. He said that Muammar Gaddafi was bad, but now things are much worse than they ever were. He asked why the West would help Libya have a revolution and then abandon it to fall into chaos.
SIMON: NPR's Leila Fadel, who's just come out of Libya. Thanks very much.
FADEL: Thank you.
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