Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the infamous Libyan dictator, is dead. The footage of his last moments show him bloodied and confused, surrounded by a mob of jubilant rebels. Many might shy away from the scene, but the grainy mobile-phone footage should nevertheless go down in history: first, as a salient, objective warning to any collectivist, authoritarian or thug who dares violate the principles of individual rights; second, as the climax of the rebellion, and more importantly of the western powers aiding it, that once looked as hopeless as Gaddafi in the video.
It would be remiss to omit the fact, however, that I was one of those who looked pityingly on the rebels. Those I even went so far as to call “amateurs” now dominate Libya. The early days, of course, with Misrata languishing under siege and NTC troops largely unable to move westward, doubtless led many to think likewise. Similarly, even after the awe-inspiring strength of Western airpower was turned on Gaddafi’s forces in March, the rebels seemed equally incapable of making speedy headway. Nor was that western support lacking. A Tripoli resident told The Telegraph on 24 May that one airstrike was so fearsome it made him think “it was the Day of Judgement.”
…one step closer to his own day of judgement…
For Gaddafi, we now know, every day since the intervention was one step closer to his own day of judgement. The belated – yet surprisingly rapid – seizure of Tripoli was statement enough of this fact, underlined in blood by the fierce combat for Sirte. There, NTC and pro- Gaddafi troops engaged in fighting so tough the seaside city is now more reminiscent of Grozny during the Second Chechen War. It is, of course, too early to tell whether the rebels themselves broke the deadlock, or whether NATO simply eroded the dictatorship. Regardless, we can be glad in the knowledge that another tyrant has met justice. That said, at the risk of seeming uncharitable given my own false expectations, we should also treat the rebels with caution. Why? The fight for Libya is still on.
On 25 October, the world learned Gaddafi now rests in an unmarked grave. Libya’s interim leaders have been quick to reassure their western backers that they will oversee the creation of a moderate Islamic state, much like their counterparts in Tunisia. Indeed, the situation there is perhaps a hint at what might follow: Tunisia’s Ennahda Islamist party has ninety of the 109 seats needed for a majority – the nearest competitor holds thirty.
…Iranian brutality illustrates well enough what awaits a country down that road…
Likewise the Muslim Brotherhood is well-placed to make an impact in Egypt’s November elections.
Though some quibble over competition from other extremist groups, its extensive grassroots network and ideological appeal will likely see it well-served in November. This, to continue the metaphor, is simply the latest chapter in the post-Mubarak tale – a story distinguished by ominous signs. Among these, the early September mob attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo, or the widespread Muslim persecution of Copts, rank among the most worrying.
Though the Libyan rebels may yet buck this trend of Islamic control and persecution, it would be unreasonable to dismiss that troubling precedence. After all, Iranian brutality illustrates well enough what awaits a country down that road. The war for Libya’s future still rages, but it has become a war of ideas. Libya must now either embrace reason, freedom and individual rights, or else regress into another Gaddafi era, one instead dressed up in the trappings of religion.
Images courtesy of the UN