01/27/2013 05:38 pm ET

Libya Photos: After Gaddafi, Libyans Have To Imagine Their Future

When we got our independence in 1951, it was something we got almost for free. This time the young people paid for it in blood. I didn’t bother with the national anthem back then. Now for the first time. I’ve memorized it by heart.

Salaheddin Sury, a professor at the Centre for National Archives and Historical Studies in Libya, told National Geographic that while his country is eager to build its feature, it "starts at zero."

Fifteen months after the Libyan revolution and the death of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi, Libyans are building a new nation -- and experiencing the growing pains that come with it. Gaddafi's supporters still abound, the government struggles to assert control, large amounts of weapons have found their way to the black market and militias remain in power in many cities.

Author Robert Draper and photographer George Steinmetz traveled to the North African country for the February issue of National Geographic magazine.


Draper writes:

Today the dictator and his warped vision for Libya are dead, and the nation is undergoing the spasmlike throes of reinvention. As Walda says, “The journey of discovery has just begun. In many ways this moment is more dangerous than wartime.” Temporary prisons are overstuffed with thousands of Qaddafi loyalists awaiting their fate as laws and court procedures are reformed. Militias control whole swaths of the country. Guns are less visible than they were during the war, but that only means the hundreds of thousands who possess them have learned to keep them out of sight. Highways in rural areas remain thoroughly unpoliced (not counting the checkpoints manned by former rebels, or thuwwar). Immigrants pour into Libya from its western and southern borders. Key Qaddafi associates, as well as his wife and some of his children, remain at large. Several new ministers are already on the take. Last September’s terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi left the unmistakable impression of a country teetering on a knife-edge. Yet despite its struggles, Libya is hardly on the brink of anarchy.

Take a look at Steinmetz's beautiful images of Libya in the slideshow below and check out National Geographic for the full story and more photos.

New Old Libya