A video image taken from Libyan TV shows former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi alive Thursday and surrounded by revolutionary fighters in Libya.
Moammar Gadhafi is dead, killed in an uprising that now, for all intents and purposes, is complete.
President Obama summed up the situation Thursday when he told the Libyan people, “You have won your revolution.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Libyans are now able “to free themselves from the dictatorial and violent regime.”
Indeed, the dictator of more than four decades was chased down to his last stronghold, where he was killed with two bullets.
To be sure, there will be few tears shed for Gadhafi, a mercurial and brutal despot whose people, caught in the storm known as the Arab Spring, saw an opportunity to oust. When the United States and allies instituted a bombing campaign that prevented Gadhafi from unleashing all of his military might against the protesters, his days were numbered. From there, Libyans pursued the dictator that had made their country an outcast in the international community.
As with most revolutions, the moment is glorious but, too a large degree, fleeting. The lesson has been taught time and again. It’s much easier to destroy a bad government than to effectively operate a good one.
Look at Egypt, where another dictator had the good sense to step aside before he was killed. Coptic Christians there are under attack from their fellow citizens, the same ones who overthrew the yoke of tyranny. Swapping one tyranny for another is not progress, and Egypt must ensure the safety of its citizens who happen to be in a religious minority if its post-revolution government is to be legitimate. Otherwise, the nation is no better off than it was before this Arab Spring.
The slaying of Gadhafi and what he represents places Libya in a position to be a better place, but it is no guarantee. A major problem is one designed by Gadhafi himself: There is no governmental infrastructure to replace the dictator. There are no institutions to step in for the transition to a new government. That’s not a problem when a nation is focused on a single purpose — overturning a despot — but once that is done, thoughts quickly turn to everyday living. Who will ensure electricity and water utilities are operating? Who will oversee the military and police? Who will ensure that food and necessities are available? Who will run the country?
Already there are reports of disorganization, tensions between secular and Islamic ideologies, divisions between territories, and infighting among rebels-turned-rulers.
How leadership develops — and it will have to develop quickly — will determine whether this revolution was a success, or a merely a case of replacing one authoritarian government with another. We can only hope that the Libyans took a deep fresh breath of democratic freedom and will refuse to return to the foul, stifling stench of oppression.