Nowhere are the militias stronger than in Benghazi, the eastern city where Libya’s “rebelution” began. After a year of paralysis, the goodwill that still keeps the wheels of central authority turning in Tripoli has evaporated here. The courthouse, beneath which tens of thousands gathered to hail the new rulers in the first days of the uprising, is boarded up. Its leaders have long since left for the plusher world of Tripoli, lured by free accommodation in the marble decadence of the city’s Rixos Hotel. Left behind, Benghazi languishes, as before the revolution, in a perpetual ghayla—the siesta that Libyans take between the midday and late afternoon prayers. The dirt and dust of abandonment coat the city along with smoke from a thousand burning refuse piles. “At least there was a system before,” I was told by a middle-aged soccer fan, whose al-Ahli team shut down after its chairman fled to Egypt with the company’s proceeds. “Now there is nothing.”…

With the collapse of central authority, militias rule in and around Benghazi. The day I arrived there hundreds of militia members had converged on the city for a congress aimed at unifying their ranks and reclaiming what they see as their rightful inheritance from the NTC and whatever elected authority might follow. “Benghazi paid the price, and Tripoli takes the profits,” declared the organizer, as he spoke from the podium after the militiamen had feasted beneath a golden canopy, regaling each other with past exploits…

Against such pressures, there are signs that the NTC is buckling. It has agreed to establish a Patriotism and Integrity Commission, a star chamber for de-Qaddafization, which will vet all appointments from officials to electoral candidates. Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, a Benghazi lawyer who announced the NTC’s formation in the early days of the uprising, lost his NTC post amid accusations of being an associate of Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam. Some want Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Qaddafi’s justice minister who replaced him, and his first prime minister, Mahmoud Jibreel, another of Seif’s appointees, to suffer a similar fate.

More sober voices caution that the root-and-branch elimination of all remnants of the old civil service and security forces will precipitate the country’s collapse, as happened for some years in Iraq. A poet I met at the Amazigh rally in Tripoli told me, “Everyone blames the vestiges of the old order for their woes, as if they had no association with it. But the truth is we were all complicit. We had to survive.” A Salafi car dealer, who spent years in Qaddafi’s torture chamber of Bu Salim and has a job in the Interior Ministry, warns of repeating the mistakes of France’s postrevolutionary reign of terror. Quoting an eighteenth-century revolutionary who was subsequently guillotined, he warns, “Like Saturn, the revolution is devouring its children.” And then he adds, “A small country cannot afford such a loss of qualified staff.”