October 28, 2011 - In the News
Weighing in on Qaddafi's death
Appeared in Stanford Daily, October 27, 2011
By Marwa Farag
Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) declared the liberation of Libya on Oct. 23 following the Oct. 20 capture and death of military dictator Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi. Col. Qaddafi’s death marks the end of Libya’s six-month civil war, which was preceded by mass protests starting February of this year.
Qaddafi’s 42-year rule was ended in August when rebel fighters captured the Libyan capital of Tripoli. He is believed to have fled to his hometown Sirte, his last stronghold, and was captured upon his attempt to escape the city after the Battle of Sirte. NATO forces attacked Qaddafi’s fleeing convoy, and anti-Qaddafi fighters confronted the scattered remnants. Qaddafi’s violent last moments were captured in a cellphone video, in which he is seen injured and being beaten by rebel captors.
Conflicting accounts of the eccentric leader’s death remain, with physical evidence disputing the NTC’s claim that Qaddafi was killed during “crossfire from both sides” and pointing towards an execution-style death. He joins Egyptian and Tunisian former presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zein El Abidine Ben Ali in the ranks of leaders deposed by the popular protests of the Arab Spring.
Qaddafi’s violent demise, blatantly different in nature from Ben Ali’s exile in Saudi Arabia and Mubarak’s trial, marks an inauspicious beginning for the new state, according to Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Larry Diamond.
“There’s a tremendous sense of relief and obvious exhilaration in most of Libya to the fact that [Qaddafi] is gone, definitively gone, and not coming back,” Diamond said, likening the euphoria seen in Libya to Iraq at Saddam Hussein’s 2003 capture.
“People knew that a very thick line had been drawn between the past and the future,” he added. “At the same time it would’ve been much better if he could’ve been tried, with due process, so he would’ve been made to account for the crimes of the past”
His death also raised concerns that supporters would claim him as a martyr for a righteous cause.
Despite the moral ambiguity surrounding the manner of the Colonel’s death, its psychological effect may still hold.
“It has released Libyans from the understandable fear [Qaddafi] might find a way to get back into power, which will be terrifically liberating,” wrote Hoover Institution research fellow Kori Schake in an email to The Daily.
The declaration of liberation constitutes the first step of a long transition to come in the North African nation.
“Even if some people see the death of Qaddafi as the end of an era, which it is…the more crucial question is that it signals the beginning of an even more challenging period in Libyan history,” said Lina Khatib, manager of the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).
The NTC, which has gained recognition as the official representative of the Libyan people by the United Nations and 100 countries, will govern with an interim constitution. According to its August Constitutional Declaration, the council will facilitate the country’s transition to a constitutional democracy with elected government. The new regime however faces a plethora of challenges, foremost of which is the lack of infrastructure in Libya.
Under Qaddafi’s rule, dissenting voices were silenced, leading to an absence of political parties and civil society, according to Khatib. This makes it difficult for the NTC to form a representative government.
“One way around [the problem] is to make use of the existing tribal system in Libya by making sure that the tribes have representation somehow,” Khatib said. “But it’s going to be a period of trial and error.”
The infrastructural challenges, combined with demands to move to elections quickly, create a fragile situation.
“There are simultaneous pressures to hold elections and move to a democratic government that has…legitimacy via elections…and the [pressure of the] institutional vacuum where trying to go to elections, allowing parties to start to develop and campaign, will take time,” Fearon said.
NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil declared in a Sunday rally that Libya will adopt Islamic Sharia as the main source for its law, rendering all laws that conflict with Sharia legally ineffective. While Sharia law can be and is interpreted moderately in many Muslim countries, the step to change the law was taken in advance of any democratic process.
“In saying they [the Libyan people] wanted to be liberated from tyranny they were also saying that they want democracy,” Diamond said. “But it’s got to be carefully crafted so that different groups can coexist with one another and share power, and so that there is a viable competitive process.”
President Obama claimed in an interview with Jay Leno on Tuesday that Qaddafi’s death, “sends a strong message around the world to dictators.”
This message however is not necessarily complementary to the demands of protestors against Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Ali Abdallah Saleh in Yemen. The manner of Qaddafi’s death may create obstacles in talks for negotiated exits for other Arab tyrants, by setting a discouraging precedent.
“This just has to reinforce– not only by the fact that Qaddafi was captured but by the gruesome vengeful way that it happened– the instinct of virtually every Arab autocrat to hang onto power until the death because now they know what could happen,” Diamond said, mentioning the “horrific” display of Qaddafi’s corpse.
Despite other Arab dictators taking cues from Libya’s revolution however, Libya may not find itself following the same path as neighbors Tunisia, where elections have recently taken place, and Egypt.
Beyond the grave challenges the NTC faces in leading the Libya towards elections and recovering from the damages incurred as a result of the destructive civil war is however the possibility of a reconstituted Libyan state.
“Libya has a greater challenge disarming and reintegrating militia, [and] a greater challenge unifying disparate cities and tribal structures,” Schake said. “They also have more money to splash around once they get the oil industry back on track, and the NTC looks to be making very smart and unifying political choices.”
- Lina Khatib
Program Manager, Arab Reform and Democracy Program
- Larry Diamond
Director, CDDRL; Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute and the Hoover Institution and Professor of Political Science and Sociology, by courtesy
- The Stanford Daily: "Faculty weigh in on colonel Qaddafis death"