As many of you probably already know, Muammar Qaddafi – the self-styled the Brother Leader, Guide of the Revolution, and King of Kings- – has been killed. He was one of the longest-ruling despots in over a century, and his oppressive reign was brought to an end in less than 300 days of rebellion – an insurrection that was hardly guaranteed to have succeeded in the first place.
Admittedly, like many people, I was beginning to let this recede into the back of my mind. I paid cursory attention to it, but I felt it was pretty much dying down as my over-saturated mind made way for more and newer news. I never did let it go entirely though. I kept revisiting it, hoping it’d turn out for the best.
The moment Qaddafi’s forces massacred the peaceful protests that called for more freedom – riding on the wave of similar demonstrations elsewhere in the Arab world – there seemed to be little hope: this would be one of a long list of failed popular protests against entrenched dictators. Experts and laymen agreed that Libya was unlikely to be liberated. Like most tyrannical regimes of the modern world, it seemed a perpetually blighted state.
Yet against all odds and the pain of death, the momentum grew. The people resisted. They kept dying but they kept fighting. The next thing the world knew, a wave of defections from both his government and military had strengthened the resolve of the people, and placed Colonel Qaddafi on the unexpected defensive. The people he regarded as rats to be slaughtered (though he simultaneously claimed they really loved him) managed to band together, not only to stop him but to form the closest thing they had to a real government.
Dramatically, he met his end in his final stronghold, the small town of Sirte where he was born. Though details are unconfirmed as of this writing, there seems to be enough evidence that he was indeed captured and killed (along with his son, who had acted as a commander). An article in the Huffington Post noted the caution that other media outlets were taking with respect to making any direct claims, though Al-Jazeera produced some graphic but seemingly credible proof of his passing.
With his death, the pockets of resistance will likely dissipate, though some holdouts might still carry on the fight (albeit much reduced in number and spirit no doubt). There is some concern that his family, most of whom fled to neighboring states, may foment insurrection and division in revenge: they’ll certainly have learned a lot about how to do that from the patriarch of the family. But it’s hard to say what, if any, influence they may still carry. In any case, the country looks as secure as it could possibly get.
It’s hard to believe Qaddafi is truly vanquished. The man held an iron rule over this people for over four decades. He was unparalleled in his erratic behavior, eccentricity, and delusion of grandeur. He saw himself as a brilliant visionary and revolutionary, and to that end supported numerous militant, terrorist, or rebel groups across the world, especially in Africa. He counted many warlords and autocrats as his allies, and often supplied both material resources and advice.
But much of that probably doesn’t matter to the beleaguered people of Libya, of whom 30,000 to 40,000 have been killed, and many more wounded (in a country of just 6 million). They suffered under one of the most Orwellian and totalitarian regimes in the world, and barring the admittedly high basic standard of living, they were forced to live a stifling existence devoid of cinemas, public assemblies, and free expression. They defied impossible odds and almost single-handedly took back their country, with the controversial assistance of a previously irrelevant NATO. Not since the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania has such a feat been pulled off.
I’ll admit to much romanticizing on my part. It is something I cannot help despite my years of IR studies and news addiction, which usually temper my tendency for idealism (though I’d rather fall between the two than on one side or the other). I know this conflict wasn’t as black and white as it seems – nothing involving humans ever is. I also know that despite this well-earned and courageous efforts, the fruits of this hard-fought liberation are still tenuous.
If there is one thing that history has taught me, it is that the aftermath of any violent or dramatic change is harder than the process itself. Transitioning to normality is a difficult and contentious task. Almost from the beginning, the leadership of the National Transitional Council, since recognized by 100 governments and most major regional bodies as a legitimate government , have tried to prepare for the inevitable and difficult transition into a functional state. It’s something every revolution faces: the fighting was the easy part, but what comes after is harder. Even our own Founding Fathers went through this process. We had it luckier than our French and Russian counterparts.
Within Libya, there seems to be a genuine push for a democratic civilian government. But it’s hard to say, given that Libyans have never known anything remotely akin to a functioning government (even by authoritarian standard, Libya lacked any veneer of government, and there is no foundational political apparatus to build upon). Resurgent Islamist elements are present and gaining gound, though they claim to be open to a pluralistic democratic system, and it’s hard to determine their motives and sincerity.
Furthermore, the rebels have been functioning as virtually autonomous militias from the start, and there have been noted riffs between themselves as the civilian leadership (which is composed largely of former Qaddafi ministers). They might not be too keen on giving up their weapons to such a government either, given what the last regime put them through. It’ll be a tough task that will require a lot of unity and trust in a land unaccustomed to either, and riven with tribal, regional, and ethnic differences (not to mention a history devoid of much solidarity).
But I must hold out hope. The rebels accomplished an amazing thing. They formed a viable, functional government in the midst of a chaotic and often losing war. They kept it together despite noted differences and clashes between them. They formed a unified and relatively effective civil service and military, and managed to take back their country piece by piece through arduous and bloody skirmishes. And now they’re expressing an intention to form a truly democratic state, one which will no doubt be imperfect at first, but still has a chance to grow and thrive.
I have my doubts and fears. But I want to believe there might be something positive out of this. There isn’t much else I can do but hope for the best, especially as I look at all the human faces that are celebrating their first taste of freedom in their entire lives.
Lastly, and this might seem absurd of me, but I can’t help but feel a bit of sadness when I look at pictures of Qaddafi’s mangled and bloodied face. He was an evil man, no doubt about it, and he arguably deserved what he got, especially as he refused to relent or flee when he had the chance. But I pity evil men. I get sad when I see that this is what has to happen for people to be free. I know that’s just the way the world is, but I can’t help but remain weary of it.
I guess that explains why I’m trying hard to be optimistic on behalf of the Libyan people. I hope all this death and suffering amounts to some positive change. It came at quite a toll.