TRIPOLI - If you listen to the government minders who are a near constant presence for reporters covering the capital of Libya, you would think that Tripoli is a stronghold of millions of supporters of Muammar Qaddafi. Correspondents' access is tightly controlled (at the risk of being thrown out of the country), and most of the Libyans we meet profess their unadulterated love for the man they call the Brother Leader.
But if you can get out into the streets and markets, the attitude changes. Life in Tripoli goes on as usual for many people here, but the cracks are starting to show. There are long lines for the cheap, subsidized gas. NATO bombings of nearby military sites are a near-nightly occurrence. And anti-Qaddafi protests, once unheard of here, are starting to sprout up.
Many of the protests witnessed by the media, though, are choreographed by the government. The chanting is mostly in Arabic, but the signs are mostly in English, for the benefit of the reporters bussed in to cover these staged rallies.
On a recent trip to Green Square, though, a Libyan who gave his name only as "Morgan" said he didn't really care about the fight between NATO and Qaddafi. "That's a problem between Mr. Muammar Qaddafi and NATO," he said in halting English as he shopped at this market in the center of the city.
A former engineer for an American oil company in Libya, Morgan said he hadn't been able to work since the bombing started. His concerns did not lie with the leader of his country for the past 41 years, but with more immediate concerns of his family.
"We are human beings, we like to work, we like to make children educated, go to school, go to university," he said. "I like to be free, like everybody else."
In today's Tripoli, those relatively mild words carry a hint of subversion that has already exploded in the rebel held territories of eastern Libya. And as more people in the streets of Tripoli start asking for more freedom, the iron control Qaddafi has had over this city is beginning to slip.