Former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi met a violent death at the hands of revolutionary forces last Thursday in his hometown of Sirte, less than a year after he vowed to perish rather than concede defeat to a popular uprising. We asked Kimberly Jones, a faculty associate in Northeastern University’s Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development, to analyze the impact of Gadhafi’s death on the nation of Libya and its potential effect on global perceptions of the Arab Spring.
Given the repression Libyans faced under Gadhafi’s regime, how will his death affect Libyan government and society?
In terms of moving forward, it depends, in part, on the credibility of the investigation into the circumstances of his death and what is learned. On the one hand, many Libyans are undoubtedly relieved at Gadhafi’s passing — there is no danger of his lurking in the shadows and plotting a vengeful comeback (although pro-Gadhafi forces still loom, albeit less large). On the other hand, with his death, there is a lack of justice and accountability for the crimes his regime committed, which could hinder people’s ability to heal and move forward in the positive and productive way that is needed for Libya to build a new state. Also, the circumstances surrounding his death raise issues about the absence of the rule of law — not necessarily unexpected given the situation — but very important nonetheless.
What stability challenges will Libya face in the wake of Gadhafi’s death?
While many stability issues loom for Libya, the nation’s key challenges include: seeking a balance between the competing agendas of the armed groups — they were not known to be a cohesive, congenial bunch; sorting through a way to hold Gadhafi loyalists accountable and provide a measure of justice without having it become a matter of national division and preoccupation that sidelines all other progress; finding constructive ways to marginalize those who seek to throw a wrench in the state-building works; creating legitimate state structures that are credible and responsive to the needs of the people while, at the same time, managing popular expectations; and ensuring that the state-building process is indigenous and inclusive and that external assistance is just that, and not attempts to control or manipulate.
How will Gadhafi’s demise affect global perceptions of the Arab Spring?
In the short term, it depends on who you are and where you are. If you had a vested interest in Gadhafi, you may mourn the seeming stability his regime provided. If you are a regional leader whose reign is in peril, you may re-evaluate your options (yet again). Or, if you are a revolutionary, you could celebrate the end of another despotic ruler, but mourn the lack of accountability for his crimes. In the long term, it depends on what comes next. The international community could exercise patience as Libya struggles politically to build a democratic state that is contextually appropriate. Or, Libyans could struggle violently as factionalism, the proliferation of weapons and regional instability all feed off of each other. While there is a middle ground in the midst of these two scenarios, it is critical to keep in mind that neither is destiny — both are a product of choices made internally and externally.