Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ian M. MacIsaac: What Qaddafi’s end means for Libya, and for the United States

  A lot of us in the United States woke up to the news. I didn't believe it at first, maybe just because the situation seems so unbelievable in the first place, like an event from a history book. It’s a profound change to see playing out before our eyes. But it all seems pretty clear now: Moammar Qaddafi was wounded and hiding when he was discovered and shot, execution-style by rebel forces.

  He had been attempting to flee his hometown of Sirte in an unarmed convoy of SUVs when a joint action by a US predator drone and a French warplane attacked his convoy. The vehicles scattered into the city streets, and Qaddafi’s car quickly drove to a ditch area where he attempted to hide in a small ground-level pipe. His guards stood around his hiding place with AK-47s and attempted to defend him but were overtaken.

  He was pulled out of the pipe, identified, and kicked around in the street before being shot in the head a number of times by a series of unidentified male rebel soldiers. They continued to film and parade his body after his death, and his corpse was later taken to Misrata.

  His son Mutassim was said to have been killed with him, and his death was later confirmed by al-Jazeera when the rebels sent a picture of the spoiled prince’s dead body, eyes still open, with a throng of young Libyan rebels with V-for-victory signs gathered around him enthusiastically.

  The very first reports that morning from Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), the internationally recognized rebel-led government, stated that Qaddafi had been wounded in the legs as he attempted to flee Sirte. Soon news had become much more unequivocal: he was simply dead. Accompanying the news was one of those shaky cellphone videos we've gotten used to, considered valid news footage. The video depicted a bloodied body with hair and a beard like Qaddafi's being kicked about in a city street. In the background, one hears the perpetual tut-tut-tut of celebratory rebel gunfire.

  But his death has already been a source of controversy, with some criticizing the rebels' decision to execute Qaddafi on the spot when he had been captured unarmed and already wounded in both legs." In the eyes of many, Libya would have been better served by putting Qaddafi on trial, as neighbor to the east (and neighbor in revolution) Egypt has begun the prosecution of former long-time president Hosni Mubarak. Additionally, the International Criminal Court in The Hague had already issued an indictment against Qaddafi for crimes against humanity. But most of the people of Libya in particular seem happy just to be rid of such a pestilent, murderous figure.

  For most Libyans, in a country where the median age (and the average life expectancy) are quite low, Qaddafi's 42-year rule was all there had ever been before the Arab Spring and the creation this year of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), the official government of the Libyan rebel movement.


  The question that remains for Libya is the same that stands for Egypt and Tunisia: can a poor, uneducated Muslim country turn a lightning-fast, European-style revolution against dictatorship and corruption into a movement for a democratic system that can stand the test of time?

  Libya, overall, seems to have a better chance than Egypt, at least, where the army has imprisoned without trial scores of protesters and officials on both sides of the revolution and has postponed free elections to 2013. But Libya has never had a free election: in the past one hundred years alone, they have suffered Ottoman colonization, followed by Italian colonization, the reign of an independent yet autocratic king named Idris, and then Qaddafi, who at age 27 overthrew Idris when the king was abroad in 1969.

  Qaddafi ruled for an uninterrupted forty-two years: forty-two years of uninterrupted leadership by a religious fundamentalist terrorist despot, who killed civilians and dissidents in more than 20 countries and executed his own citizens in medieval methods when he wasn’t bombing into nonexistence whole Libyan towns suspected of harboring anti-Qaddafi dissidents. Here was a man who had as few qualms about killing his own people as he did about killing foreigners, including the more than 100 people who died in the Pan Am 103 crash over Lockerbie, Scotland—a bombing masterminded by Qaddafi and his Libyan government.

  His murderous efforts in Africa are less well-known in the western world, but are just as brutal as his behavior toward the west, if not even more so. He waged a terrible, decade-long war against the nation of Chad, to Libya’s south, in an effort to annex the northern half of the country and expand Libya’s territory. Qaddafi played on the fact that Chad was split religiously, with the north populated predominantly by Muslims and the south populated predominantly by Christians, who had for centuries dominated the Muslims in the north politically and economically.

  Qaddafi attempted to convince Chad’s northern Muslims that they would fare better in a Muslim state, run by Qaddafi, who considered himself an Islamic scholar and had his works taught in all Libyan schools during his reign (although most of his writings were gibberish, even in the original Arabic). Only after the deaths of almost 50,000 people and the intervention on behalf of Chad by the French government did Qaddafi finally retreat in defeat.


  For the Transitional Council—now the Libyan government, since they are the only existing organization or group of persons claiming that title—Qaddafi's death is not a time to lean back and celebrate, nor is it the end of their struggle. Indeed, it is the beginning of what will be the crucial time for the Transitional Council: without Qaddafi as a ready opponent to define themselves against, they will now have to define themselves, and stand alone in their search for the approval and goodwill of Libya's politically skeptical populous.

  The nation's new leaders now face the unenviable task of reuniting a politically and socially splintered nation-state that has already had problems putting national good ahead of tribal benefit. The concept of the nation-state was imported into the Bedouin culture; in many ways it remains foreign to their thought paradigms.

  Many are calling for the resignation of NTC head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, who had been Qaddafi’s Justice Minister from 2007 until early February this year, when he resigned after Qaddafi began ordering the violent removal of protestors. Despite his early stand against the dictatorship, many among the rebellion resist the idea of being led by a man who ever served Qaddafi, no matter when he quit or why he did so. The rebels face many obstacles in their quest to successfully replace the Qaddafi dictatorship with a stable and functioning democratic government.


  For the United States--and for Barack Obama in particular--Qaddafi's death is an unmitigated victory in an astonishing series of foreign policy victories for the president that include the deaths of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Alwaki, and now Muammar Qaddafi in less than six months.

  Reports are almost certain that it was an American drone cruiser that located, identified, and first moved in on Qaddafi's convoy, along with a French warplane that identified the drone and accompanied it. Only after Qaddafi’s convoy of black SUVs had been attacked and scattered did the rebel fighters on the ground realize the black SUVs driving out of Tripoli contained a high-value target.

  The victory as a whole, of course, belongs to the Libyan people, not the American government. Whatever tribal bickering and me-first behavior Libya must overcome to make their revolution a successful, fully democratic one, at least they were able to fulfill their revolution in the first place, and oust from power probably the most odious head of state to have operated in the 21st century.

  His death marks an inevitable, gruesome end to an even more gruesome chapter in African and Middle Eastern history. The fact that he was pulled out of his hiding place alive and wounded, pleading “Don’t shoot! Have mercy!” and yet was seen on video later with execution-style gunshot wounds to his head shows that the people of the nation he had ruled with an iron fist for half a century no longer had anything like mercy for him, let alone love or respect.

  About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama and former co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

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