The improvised state

BENGHAZI, Libya – If you had told Benghazi residents three months ago that within a matter of weeks they would be throwing Molotov cocktails at Qaddafi loyalist tanks, they would’ve looked at you like you were crazy. Even after the Egyptian revolution began on Jan. 25, Muammar al-Qaddafi’s iron grip on Libyan society seemed too ...

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

BENGHAZI, Libya - If you had told Benghazi residents three months ago that within a matter of weeks they would be throwing Molotov cocktails at Qaddafi loyalist tanks, they would've looked at you like you were crazy. Even after the Egyptian revolution began on Jan. 25, Muammar al-Qaddafi's iron grip on Libyan society seemed too strong to allow an uprising of the sort that occurred in Tunis and Cairo. Ahmed, a 26-year-old medical student in Benghazi, told me about a joke that was making the rounds in recently liberated Tunisia in February: "The Tunisians," he said, "were telling Libyans to bend over so they could see the real men over in Egypt."

It's not surprising, then, that when the revolution happened, few people here had much of an idea about what to do next: how to keep a society dominated by the government sector running once that sector was gone. Just as the opposition's Transitional National Council (TNC) has faced the problem of managing its volunteer-heavy rebel army, people trying to manage quotidian aspects of life during the war have faced the problem of what to do with the thousands of volunteers who want to help but don't have anyone giving orders. This is true in medical care, aid distribution, and other state services: While the TNC has managed to restore many of the functions of government previously handled by the Qaddafi regime, volunteers continue to shoulder much of the burden.

Read more.

BENGHAZI, Libya – If you had told Benghazi residents three months ago that within a matter of weeks they would be throwing Molotov cocktails at Qaddafi loyalist tanks, they would’ve looked at you like you were crazy. Even after the Egyptian revolution began on Jan. 25, Muammar al-Qaddafi’s iron grip on Libyan society seemed too strong to allow an uprising of the sort that occurred in Tunis and Cairo. Ahmed, a 26-year-old medical student in Benghazi, told me about a joke that was making the rounds in recently liberated Tunisia in February: "The Tunisians," he said, "were telling Libyans to bend over so they could see the real men over in Egypt."

It’s not surprising, then, that when the revolution happened, few people here had much of an idea about what to do next: how to keep a society dominated by the government sector running once that sector was gone. Just as the opposition’s Transitional National Council (TNC) has faced the problem of managing its volunteer-heavy rebel army, people trying to manage quotidian aspects of life during the war have faced the problem of what to do with the thousands of volunteers who want to help but don’t have anyone giving orders. This is true in medical care, aid distribution, and other state services: While the TNC has managed to restore many of the functions of government previously handled by the Qaddafi regime, volunteers continue to shoulder much of the burden.

Read more.

Ryan Calder is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

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