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In Tripoli, Celebrating More Than Ramadan's End

Aug 31, 2011
Originally published on August 31, 2011 8:40 pm

The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr is always a time of joyous celebration in the Islamic world. The holiday's arrival means that Ramadan, the long month of daytime fasting, is over, and friends and family gather to exchange gifts and share meals.

As it began Wednesday in Tripoli, the holiday carried even greater resonance this year because of the rebel takeover of the Libyan capital.

"It's the big Eid this year," says resident Alaa al-Najaa. "In my life, I haven't seen the people before like that, especially the children."

Now, Libyans are looking toward the future without dictator Moammar Gadhafi — and they describe feelings of both hope and fear.

A Celebration Of Freedom

Najaa helped organize a neighborhood party at a local school. Dozens of children and their parents gathered for Eid, eating cake and playing. Everyone donated some money and pitched in with supplies.

This is more than a celebration of Eid, the people say, it is a celebration of their freedom.

The children are drawing pictures of the new Libyan flag, something that would have gotten them arrested only two weeks ago.

Jihad Anas, 10, has a gash on his forehead, suffered after he sneaked out with his older brother, who was fighting Gadhafi loyalists in his Tripoli neighborhood of Fashloom 10 days ago.

The boy says he used to secretly draw the rebel flag at home and then rip the pictures up so no one would see. When asked what would have happened if a Gadhafi supporters had discovered his drawings back then, he uses the hand gesture representing a gun to imply he would have been shot.

Amid Joy, Hardships Continue

But while people are enjoying what they call their liberation, life in the capital is a struggle. There is limited water, electricity and other services.

Not to mention money. On Tuesday, the banks opened for the first time in several weeks, and they were mobbed with people desperate to withdraw funds to buy much needed supplies for the Eid festivities. There is a cap of 250 dinars — about $180 — per person, and some people had trouble even getting that out.

One woman, Cauter Mahmoud Zaglut, says she was turned away. She hasn't been able to get money out for months, and she says she is living hand to mouth.

"I can't even pay the rent," she says. "What am I going to do?"

Even people who have money are finding it hard to make it last.

At the butcher's, people line up to buy lamb.

Customer Omar Khalifa says food prices have almost trebled in the past few weeks. And food is scarce. Because there are no regular deliveries into the capital, shopkeepers can charge whatever they want, he says.

For now, everyone seems to be accepting the situation in Tripoli with equanimity. But the longer this goes on, the more it will tax their patience. The challenge for the new rebel leadership will be to get the country up and running as quickly as possible.

Back at the neighborhood party, English teacher Huda Shegleb says the aftermath of 42 years of brutal dictatorship and six months of war will not be easy.

"It will take a long time, I think, to get better," she says.

The children and their parents move to a room to cut what looks like a birthday cake covered in a rebel flag made out of icing.

With huge smiles, those gathered this Eid sing the rebel national anthem. It's the first time people say they've sung it publicly — though they all know the words.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: In Libya today, there are reports that one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons wants to negotiate his own surrender. Saadi Gadhafi has reportedly told a senior rebel military commander that he wants to give himself up, provided certain guarantees. Meanwhile, the rebels have given Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte until Saturday to hand over the city peacefully or, they say, they will launch an all out attack.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: We turn now to Libya's capital, where people are celebrating the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports that Tripoli residents are cautiously optimistic about the future, despite some very real challenges in the present.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eid al-Fitris is always a time of joyous celebration in the Muslim world. The long fasting month is over and friends and family gather, exchanging gifts and sharing meals.

But here in Tripoli, Alaa al-Najaa says it has a special resonance because of the rebel takeover of the capital.

ALAA AL-NAJAA: This is the big Eid this year. We haven't seen Eid before like that. In my life, I haven't seen the big one like that, especially the children.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Al-Najaa helped organize this neighborhood party at a local school. Dozens of children and their parents have gathered here this Eid, eating cake and playing. Everyone donated some money and pitched in with supplies.

So I'm in one of the rooms here at the center, and it's littered with crayons and markers and pieces of paper, and the children here are drawing. And what they're drawing, I think, is indicative of the way people say that they feel. They say that this is more than a celebration of Eid. This is a celebration of their very freedom. And all the children here are drawing pictures of the new Libyan flag, something that would've gotten them arrested here only two weeks ago.

JIHAD ANAS: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ten-year-old Jihad Anas has a gash on his forehead, suffered after he sneaked out with his older brother, who was fighting Gadhafi loyalists in his Tripoli neighborhood of Fashloom 10 days ago.

ANAS: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says he used to secretly draw the rebel flag at home and then rip up the pictures, so no one would see.

But while people are enjoying what they call their liberation, life in the capital is a struggle. There is limited water, electricity, services and money. The banks opened for the first time yesterday, and they were mobbed with people desperate to withdraw funds to buy much-needed supplies for the Eid festivities.

CAUTER MAHMOUD ZAGLUT: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Cauter Mahmoud Zaglut says she was turned away. She hasn't been able to get money out for months, and she's living hand to mouth. And even people who have the funds are finding it hard to make the money last.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Expensive, very expensive. Very expensive

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the butchers, people line up to buy lamb.

OMAR KHALIFA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Omar Khalifa says food prices have almost trebled in the past few weeks and food is scarce. Because there's no regular deliveries into the capital, shopkeepers can charge whatever they want, he says.

For now, everyone seems to be accepting the situation here with equanimity. But the longer this goes on, the less patience people will have. The challenge for the new rebel leadership will be to get the country up and running as quickly as possible.

Back at the neighborhood party, English teacher Huda Shegleb says the aftermath of 42 years of brutal dictatorship and six months of war will not be easy.

HUDA SHEGLEB: It will take a long time, I think, to get better.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The children and their parents move to a room to cut what looks like a birthday cake covered in a rebel flag made out of icing.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Huda ululates as the candles are lit. With huge smiles, those gathered this Eid sing the rebel national anthem. It's the first time people here say they've sung it publicly, though they all know the words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Whatever the future brings, at this moment in this place, the message is clear. Libyans have made their voices heard and they won't be silenced again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ULULATION AND APPLAUSE)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Tripoli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.