‘‘It’s not easy to inherit a country with no state institutions, with no constitution, no army, no functioning security apparatus,’’ said Gamaty. ‘‘It’s almost like a vacuum.’’
Still he and other critics say Libya’s new government hasn’t yet shown the resolve or decisiveness to really tackle the problem. The congress elected in July has yet to even produce a government, much to people’s disappointment and dashing high expectations after Gadhafi was toppled.
‘‘No one in Libya is happy,’’ complained Jihadeddin al-Salam, a young man sipping espresso with friends outside a cafe in downtown Tripoli. ‘‘Everyone has to be in a militia — if you aren’t in a militia you can’t protect your home.’’
One year on, the oil-rich country with a population of only about six million is still struggling to overcome the legacy of one of the most erratic leaders of modern times as well as the brutal, eight-month civil war that left the country awash in weapons, militias and very few viable institutions of the state.
Despite widely hailed elections in summer, the new General National Congress has been widely condemned as dysfunctional, engaging in shifting alliances and unable to form a new government.
Many Libyans complain that little has changed in the past year and amid the instability, everyone is holding on to their guns.
‘‘We can’t really discuss differences of opinions when we have weapons because in the end everyone here has a gun, and when they get mad, they might go for their weapons,’’ said Saleh Sanoussi, a political analyst at Benghazi University. ‘‘Freedom with weapons results in chaos,’’ he added.
‘‘It is a Catch-22,’’ he said of the militias dilemma. ‘‘Without them, there is a danger to security. With them, it is impossible to build an army.’’
For the most part, though, the weapons have disappeared from the streets of the capital Tripoli at least and it is now rare to see militias on street corners flaunting their arsenals, like they did before. Instead they are confined to their bases, from where they patrol and keep the peace.
Khalifa, a heavy set man with close-cropped hair dressed in a neat green camouflage uniform, fiddled with his white iPhone in his office as he explained his police investigation unit’s new duties.
He said his unit is essentially the same battalion of close friends and relatives that began the fight in Tripoli against Gadhafi, with a few new additions, and he maintained that they are safeguarding the revolution.
‘‘There is a power stronger than the government and that is the power of the revolutionaries and it is keeping matters on the right track,’’ he said. ‘‘The forces of Zintan, Misrata and Souq al-Jumaa are stronger than the government,’’ he said referring to the cities and districts with the most powerful militias.
He acknowledged that while nominally his group is under the control of the central government, when the Misrata militias said they needed help in their fight against Bani Walid, Khalifa dispatched units long before the government ordered an attack on the city.
‘‘In cases of national security, we don’t need permission.’’
For some Libyans, despite all the obvious problems, there is still a glimmer of optimism.
‘‘We inherited many bad things, but the worst that affects our lives is the corruption, ‘‘said Mustafa al-Refai, a 56-year-old running a consultancy company in Tripoli.
Yet lacking some of the impatience of younger Libyans, al-Refai said he believes things are slowly moving in the right direction.
‘‘I am glad I lived to see the change,’’ he said with a broad smile.