BENGHAZI, Libya — On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Feb. 17 revolution, residents here say that while they are thrilled their former dictator is gone, there hasn’t been enough of an effort to purge his supporters from the leadership.
“The question is whether the regime has fallen or is it still there,” said Abdel Salam El Sherif, 33, a lawyer and political activist in the city considered the cradle of the uprising that ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi late last year.
For the past two days, locals celebrated the anniversary by honking horns on cars adorned with the pre-Gadhafi red, black and green flags, cruising on the same roads where security forces gunned down several protesters one year ago.
After Libya’s second-largest city drove Gadhafi’s men west and liberated the eastern half of the country, Benghazi was a ghost town amid the uncertain revolutionary environment. People stayed indoors and locked their businesses behind solid green shutters — the color of Gadhafi’s flag.
Now the city bustles with life, and the shutters, when closed, have been repainted as the tri-color flag.
Starting Wednesday, security forces were put on alert, flooding the downtown area and access points to the city with armed men.
The city has been relatively safe since the NATO airstrikes began last March, but last week tensions rose after one of Gadhafi’s sons, El-Saadi, who escaped to Niger as rebels took Tripoli, called into a Saudi TV news channel and warned of an imminent uprising against the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC).
“The increased numbers of security men is to send a message to families that the celebrations this week will be safe,” said Ahmed Binasser, 43, a car parts salesman and former rebel fighter. “We’re also concerned about the threats El-Saadi made. Basically, we want to be prepared for any situation.”
Mr. Binasser was a member of the local Zawiya Martyrs Brigade, one of the toughest militias during the revolution. He and others were stationed Thursday at an intersection near downtown Benghazi, dressed in full camouflage uniform and a defense ministry badge.
Unlike other Libyan rebel brigades, all of the fighters in the east have come under control of the defense ministry. Closer to the dock area, a dozen men in uniform and civilian clothing, armed with AK-47s and the larger Belgium FN-FAL rifle, lined the streets.
Halili Aguri, 20, and Tarek Shetawi, 31, said their Libya Al-Hurra (“Free Libya“) Brigade signed on with the ministry in April.
“All the rebels in Benghazi have signed up with the ministry, and around 1,000 graduated a training course yesterday,” Mr. Aguri said.
On Sunday, the NTC announced on its veteran’s affairs website that it completed its first, post-revolutionary phase of its plan to absorb the diverse militias into a new national army, signing up 5,000 men.
The transitional government now is offering jobs in the army or the police force to revolutionary fighters, in addition to post-graduate education abroad.
The situation in the east contradicts news of other militias reportedly taking revenge against those they consider to have supported Gadhafi.