Libya after Gadhafi's death

Moammar Gadhafi's death ends the uncertainty that had hung over Libya, but the fact that he was killed, and not just captured, matters not only to Libya but also around the world.

The challenges ahead for Libya's revolution

Moammar Gadhafi’s death ends the uncertainty that had hung over Libya, but the fact that he was killed, and not just captured, matters not only to the country’s National Transitional Council but also around the world.

His killing "takes away the insurgency aspect and a good deal of argument" about whether he should be tried in Libya or at the International Criminal Court" in The Hague, said Libya expert Ronald Bruce St John, the author of 16 books.

His capture would have continued to stir the political pot, according to St John, but this result makes it much easier for the NTC to embark on its plans for a democratic transition.

'We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Moammar Gadhafi has been killed,' Libya's Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told a news conference in Tripoli, Oct. 20. (APTN/Associated Press)
Both St John, who has two books on Libya being published this year, and Jens Hanssen, a Libya expert at the University of Toronto, told CBC News that a trial would have brought out details about Gadhafi's rule.

"The idealist in me would have preferred a capture and a delivery to The Hague and then a trial in which many things would have come out that would have surprised the world," Hanssen said, referring to both Gadhafi and his ties to Western governments.

In June, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gadhafi for crimes against humanity.

Circumstances of Gadhafi's death symbolic

While the sequence of events leading to Gadhafi's death is not yet clear, Hanssen said it is important that he was captured by a young, revolutionary fighter (Mohammed al-Bibi) or a group of revolutionaries in Sirte.

Hanssen explained that because of the view that the Libyan revolutionaries could not overthrow Gadhafi on their own, that NATO's bombing campaign and other actions were critical, the symbolism of his capture makes a difference.

That a NATO bomb may have stopped Gadhafi’s convoy, possibly injuring him, is not a "desirable" part of the narrative, according to St John, but he does not believe it will be  "terribly significant in terms of the longer-term political process in Libya."

However, in the larger picture, Hanssen considers the "No. 1 legitimacy crisis" that Libya's new rulers face is over how much they relied on NATO bombing and then how indebted they are to the coalition countries.

The capture of the former Gadhafi stronghold of Sirte by Libyan interim government forces, after an intense battle, led to Gadhafi attempting to flee, and then to his death. (Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters)
The NTC has to walk a tightrope, Hanssen said: "On the one hand they do owe [NATO], on the other hand they don't want a return to economic and political dependency. My hope and hunch is that they will create some form of parliamentary representation and democracy and, through that, ensure that the West will have a difficult time operating as they used to."

St John is also optimistic. In his view, the Libyan "leadership and people are committed to a relatively secular and democratic government."

The NTC has laid out a timetable and a 13-month process for free and fair elections under UN supervision.

Challenges ahead

Of course there are challenges ahead.

Fighters with Libya's interim government celebrate at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli Oct. 20. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)
There is the risk of more infighting between the disparate groups that opposed Gadhafi: home-grown revolutionaries, Western-educated intellectuals, Islamists and former Gadhafi supporters who broke with the dictator.

"Don't expect a blooming of democracy in the desert anytime soon," Middle East commentator Eric Margolis told CBC News. "After euphoria we will probably move into confusion" because of political infighting, he added.

For Hanssen, Gadhafi's death gives some hope that this infighting might be contained.

"It's a worry but everyone inside Libya is aware of it and I am sure a huge effort will be made to prevent that from happening."

Then there is the challenge of integrating the sector of Libya's population that backed Gadhafi, many of whom have skills and experience that the new government desperately needs. So far, St John trusts the NTC's claims that they want to retain Gadhafi supporters in government if they don't have blood on their hands.

Political system needs to be rebuilt from scratch

Was Gadhafi delusional?

Here's what Libya expert Ronald Bruce St John told CBC News:

"Gadhafi's shown some evidence of delusion for some time. Since the February uprising, he became increasingly delusional. My sense is that he probably still believed, right up until the end, that he had supporters out there who would rise up and eventually restore him to power."

"Everything he said and did… suggested [some of his sons and followers] were feeding on this delusion from the leader himself."

Books by St John:

  • Libya, Continuity and Change (2011)
  • Libya: from colony to revolution (Nov. 2011)

St John, right, and Seif al-Islam Gadhafi at the U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in London, U.K. in 2003.

Libya faces a challenge that other countries experiencing the Arab Spring do not. In Libya, not just an old regime but a whole political system has been overthrown and must be overhauled.

"In places like Egypt or Tunisia, you will have the continuation of the system, the state structure, for better or worse" but in Libya it's too discredited, Hanssen says, referring to Gadhafi's "grandiose illusion of a mass democracy," named Jamahiriya.

Because that system is so discredited, the state system must be rebuilt from scratch. But Hanssen views that as a plus.

"Here is a country that is forced to rebuild the entire state infrastructure and that will be a huge experiment, a huge burden. For that reason, after all the violence, Libya might emerge as the most revolutionary, in terms of newness, of all the countries that are in turmoil."

In an interview with CBC News, Guma el-Gamaty, the U.K. co-ordinator for the NTC, said that Thursday was a "very significant and momentous day in Libya's history."

He noted the challenges ahead but said that "the last eight months of trauma, of drama, of blood, of suffering, of victims, of people being killed, has come to an end, and hopefully Libya can move forward in a peaceful way to rebuild itself. Now the political process starts. But the main thing is the dark episode -- not just last eight months but the last 42 years -- have come to an end."