The Qaddafi government established a pervasive security-and-intelligence apparatus that extends into every neighborhood. Its most notorious component is the Revolutionary Committees (al-lijan al-thawriyah) — the vanguard and defenders of Qaddafi’s revolutionary vision. They seem comparable to China’s Red Guard during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. These, I suspect, constitute some of the “die-hards” whom you see waving green flags and kissing pictures of Qaddafi in the live feeds from Tripoli.
Even in rebel-held zones, people are scared of the Revolutionary Committees, and of other core Qaddafi groups such as Internal Security (al-amn al-dakhili) and “Research” (al-bahth — this is, I’m sure, a short form of a full organizational name that I don’t know). “You should be careful in Benghazi,” they say. “Even though it’s a rebel-held city now, the Revolutionary Committee members are going out and shooting people — even women and children — all over the city. And they even have women fighters among them.” Whenever I am warned not to take cars with people who “aren’t trusted” or to be careful walking around, I am told that Revolutionary Committee members could be about.
“Did you know who in your neighborhood were Revolutionary Committee members?” I once asked an interviewee. “No. They were hidden, for the most part. You didn’t know. But with some of the other internal-security groups, you did know.”
“In February,” this 30-something interlocutor went on, “during the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, I was with a group of people [in a major eastern city], and I started to blurt out that maybe something like that could even happen in Libya. It just came out of my mouth, you know? But I stopped myself halfway through the sentence. A middle-aged man from the neighborhood, whom we all knew was a member of Al-Bahth, looked at me. He is a neighbor of some of my relatives. “‘You’re lucky that I’m a friend of your family,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, I’d report you.’
Then, after the revolution had started — maybe around February 22 or so — a group of revolutionaries surrounded this Bahth guy’s house. He was still raising the green flag [of Qaddafi]! So the revolutionaries said, ‘You have one minute to pull down the flag, or we’ll burn your house down.”
“Did he take down the green flag?” I asked.
According to this interviewee, “60 percent” of Revolutionary Committee members in rebel-held zones have surrendered to the interim government. (I have no idea where he got this number; I think it’s best to interpret it as “a significant portion.”) “The rebel government has put out a directive saying that they should surrender immediately,” he went on. “If they don’t surrender and are found with weapons, on their person or in their homes, they will be killed immediately.”
I’m hoping to interview one of these former Revolutionary Committee members who has surrendered to the interim government.