Residents of Sirte are gearing up to vote in Saturday’s Libyan election, hoping it will help bring prosperity to the war-battered hometown of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi and erase his legacy.
“This is the first step towards security and prosperity of Sirte in the new Libya,” said Khalid Saad, an operator at a local telecommunications centre in Sirte’s Dollar district — the scene of fierce fighting last October as Kadhafi loyalists clashed with rebels.
“My destroyed town has to be rebuilt. This can happen by participating in the election. Once security and prosperity return to Sirte, Kadhafi will be forgotten.”
The Dollar district and nearby Number Two neighbourhood were the last battlefields before the town fell to former rebels last year.
It was here that Kadhafi hid in his final days before he was captured alive on the outskirts of Sirte as he tried to flee on October 20. He was later killed in hazy circumstances.
The entire town, especially these two neighbourhoods, saw massive destruction as fighters from the port city of Misrata and Benghazi, epicentre of the anti-Kadhafi revolt, converged on Sirte in the last battle before the former strongman’s death.
“Look at this neighbourhood or the town itself. Not a single building is intact. Everything is destroyed,” said Saad, pointing at row after row of buildings and villas devastated in heavy shelling by rebels and NATO air strikes.
“All this because this was his town. We’ve had enough. We want to move on. It’s a myth that Kadhafi was good to us. He was good only to his family. We want to forget him and move on,” he said as behind him several Pakistanis and Bangladeshis made telephone calls back home from his centre.
An AFP correspondent touring Sirte on Friday saw the town’s main roads and streets largely deserted as most residents stayed at home on the Muslim weekly day of rest.
Posters and banners of independent candidates or those representing political parties were seen mostly on main squares, while piles of garbage and debris of war-wracked buildings still lay on the sides of main roads and sidelanes.
Flags of the post-Kadhafi Libya fluttered from lampposts and on balconies of empty, burnt buildings.
“Yes to united Libya! Yes to women’s power! No to centralised government!,” read the slogan of independent candidate Salem Ahmed al-Dabbar on a poster with his picture displayed at a square at a key intersection.
Posters such as “United Libya is above everything!” put up by the ruling National Transitional Council as part of an awareness campaign were also seen on main roads.
“Unity is the main thing now,” said 28-year-old Othman as he stepped out of a butcher’s shop in central Sirte.
“Inshallah (God willing), I will vote in the election. So far Sirte has been ignored. The present government has done nothing, but we hope that after the election things will change.”
Othman, an engineer who only gave his first name, said that at a social level efforts were underway to help the reconciliation process between Sirte and the rest of Libya, but distrust was still running high.
“There is deep distrust. It is so high that seriously ill patients from our town do not get proper treatment in Tripoli or Benghazi,” he said.
“And if someone needs to be treated abroad… forget it. It’s just impossible to take the patient abroad if he is from Sirte. This has to end and I hope it ends with this vote.”
Several residents told AFP that Sirte lacked basic infrastructure such as steady electricity supply and well equipped schools.
“People want good education and basic facilities,” said Ahmed Amin, a school teacher as he sipped coffee at a local cafe.
“The damage done is enormous, not just to the town but to our lives. We all are psychologically depressed and that has to change. There are obstacles but tomorrow could be the first day that can bring that change,” he said.