Excitement builds as up to three million people prepare to elect a national congress

He has been offered thousands to sell the military hat he stole from Colonel Gaddafi’s bedroom as the dictator’s empire collapsed around him, but he insists he won’t be tempted

Instead Hisham al Windi is waiting for a time when Libya is secure enough to display the hat in a museum – security is still the biggest challenge in the country as the population prepares to go to the polls for the first time

Nearly a year after Mr al Windi rampaged through the colonel’s compound in Tripoli with hundreds of other rebels, the country is still awash with weapons and the transitional government is unsure whether it can maintain security at polling stations, particularly in the south and east

But that’s unlikely to deter nearly three million people, including Mr al Windi, who have registered to vote

“This is what we fought for,” he told me as we drove around the capital

The young man captivated his fellow Libyans, and the world, when he spoke to Sky News on the day the rebels breached the Gaddafi compound (August 23) calling on Libyan

s to unite and forget the hurt of the past and move forward togetherHis obvious astonishment at being able to walk into the colonel’s bedroom and take his pick of the dictator’s personal possessions captured the collective excitement sweeping the country and came to symbolise the end of the Gaddafi eraHe has become a minor celebrity since, appearing on several television programmes and being interviewed by media from around the worldHis interview with Sky News was turned into a musical rap and became an internet sensation, searing Mr al Windi’s actions and engaging interview into the memories and heartsof his fellow countrymen and women, as well as ridiculing the dictator they had come to hate at the same time“I want to eventually get into politics and help shape my country,” he said, “but not yet. Many parties have asked me to help but I want to learn and grow up a bit first”

Instead, the 27-year-old is likely to accept a teaching post immediately and then move into politics

We went back with him to the Bab al Aziziya compound for the first time since last August

The Gaddafi compound, which once contained its own zoo and football pitch for the dictator’s amusement, has been reduced to rubble and is now being used as a dumping ground for rubbish

“I don’t agree with this,” Mr al Windi said, “it is destructive and short-sighted. We should remember our past and we should have kept it as a memory so people know what happened”

The exterior walls have been demolished and those parts of the Gaddafi house still standing have been stripped bare and burned

“The rebels were afraid in the weeks after the storming that Gaddafi would still come back so they wanted to destroy this to send a message to him and the country that there

was no coming back,” he said

)Gaddafi went on the run after the compound was stormed and was only found about two months later.(

We wandered around the destroyed building together as the former rebel reminisced about those heady days of revolution

“This was his office. It had a huge library,” he said, “I found a set of stairs leading down into an underground bunker which had oxygen tanks and a bedroom with a single bed
He wandered around the labyrinth of rooms underground and discovered the nerve centre of the Gaddafi empire. It was an office with banks of telephones and compu
terswhich I think must have been for Gaddafi”

“I tried telephoning my mother,” he said, “but I couldn’t get through. Part of me thought ‘I wonder if he’s still here but he had gone’”The young former fighter still has his weapon stored away in the house he shares with his parents in the capital“I haven’t got it out since that day. I hate it,” he told me, “but this is Libya’s problem. There are too many guns. Everyone has one but while my neighbour has one and my neighbour knows I have one; we keep them, just in case”He is hugely excited about finally voting on Saturday.”I can’t wait,” he said, “and I hope everyone votes and does not vote based on tribe or allegiances or anything. This should be a vote for a new Libya, for our future and we have much to be happy about” 

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