It may also be hard to savor the dictator's demise because of the challenges that lie ahead. Abdul Salaam says he's "optimistic" about Libya's future, "but not 100 percent." He thinks conflict could arise among cities and among tribes. Moreover, he feels his own political goals may be out of reach. As an Islamist, he supports making sharia Libya's primary legal framework -- but he doubts this will come to pass, at least not anytime soon. "It's not impossible," he says, but he expects resistance -- not least from the Western powers that supported the National Transitional Council. "The developed countries won't like it," he quips. Like many Libyans, he is aware of many Westerners' dim view of the idea of an Islamic state. "I support sharia -- but not bin Laden's kind of sharia," he is quick to point out.
Abdul Salaam also senses occasional discrimination from other Libyans. Now that his beard identifies him as a man of faith, people look at him differently, even with Qaddafi gone. "Some people absorbed Qaddafi's view [of pious Muslims]," he sighs.
The rat-tat-tat of machine-gun fire outside the café interrupts our conversation. It's those bullets of joy again -- young men have been firing Kalashnikovs into the air all day, celebrating Qaddafi's death.
Libya today is awash in weapons. As the eastern part of the country fell to the rebels in February, defeated loyalist militias fled, leaving behind machine guns, grenade launchers, and anti-aircraft guns that the everyman rebels picked up and took home. In the absence of a clear military command structure for the first two months of the revolution, ordinary people -- many of whom had never held a gun before -- grabbed these weapons and drove westward to fight, teaching themselves in their backyards how to shoot Kalashnikovs and mounting anti-aircraft guns on their pickup trucks.
Throughout the summer and fall, the NTC established a command structure and announced programs to bring Libya's scattered weaponry under its control. But opposition fighters around the country continued to gather up what small arms they could, stripping them from dead loyalist soldiers, picking them up as enemy militias fled, and buying them on the black market. Weapons found their way back to cities like Benghazi that were no longer on the front lines. Today, it is often unclear who exactly is carrying weapons and what form of state imprimatur, if any, they have.
In the major cities, a dizzying array of groups assert responsibility for keeping the peace and resolving disputes: neighborhood militias, police, local councils, tribal forces, and special units that report directly to the National Transitional Council. The neighborhood militias defend their home turf and sometimes also take on the task of hunting out suspected criminals or Qaddafi loyalists who might be causing trouble. But there are other layers of "security" too. "If a fight breaks out, the first people to arrive are the neighborhood militias, and then it's the police officers," says Alixe Turner, a Benghazi-based analyst with the Shabakat Corporation, an international research firm. "But the NTC sometimes doesn't even know who the police officers are, and whether they're legitimate police officers. And if someone dies, tribal figures will get involved as well." Tribal leaders regularly adjudicate disputes and negotiate settlements between victims and accused perpetrators.
The lack of clear state authority worries Osama Mustafa Drese, the liberal who has gathered his two co-workers for the Skype call. Osama is also 30, a lean, energetic man with high cheekbones and long eyelashes that accentuate his big eyes. "The NTC isn't a real government yet," he says. "When Libya has a constitution, recognized ministries, a prime minister, clear laws, and a proper system of government -- whether a monarchy, a federal republic, whatever -- then I'll say we have a government. But what we have now isn't a government."
Osama is frustrated, and with reason. Yesterday, masked gunmen entered his cousin's home in the middle of the night. "They took him away in front of his children," he explains. For 24 hours, Osama's family tried to figure out what had happened, suspecting that the cousin had been kidnapped by the February 17 Martyrs' Brigade, a citizens' militia turned opposition paramilitary already accused of having killed a senior military leader in July to settle an old score.
But after his family spent the night worrying, Osama's cousin was released -- by the police, who turned out to have been the ones who "kidnapped" him. According to Osama, the police apprehended his cousin based on an informant's report that he was a secretly active member of the pro-Qaddafi Revolutionary Committees. But quickly, Osama says, the police realized that the informant was lying. "So today, the police let my cousin go, and arrested the informant instead." This Keystone Kops moment might be funny if it hadn't been so terrifying -- and if it didn't reflect the chaotic state of Libya's security apparatus, which seems to have the structural consistency of hummus.