Death of a despot

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Former Libyan authoritarian Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed on Oct. 20. Three days later, the Libyan National Transitional Council announced the end of the 8-month civil war, saying that Libya was finally free.

The announcement is monumental for a country that faced decades of suppression by Gaddafi, who took over via a military coup and held power by violence, financial resources and suppression.

The ambiguous parts of this are twofold: the death of Gaddafi and the immediate future of Libya.

When opposition forces captured  Sirte, Libya, Gaddafi’s hometown and last stronghold, he attempted an escape via a 75-vehicle convoy.

In addition to his bodyguards and loyalists, Gaddafi’s army and security chiefs were also in the convoy.

A British recon aircraft spotted the convoy leaving the city. NATO aircraft — supposedly not aware that Gaddafi was in the convoy — then fired on the convoy, which was subsequently attacked by a US predator drone and French fighter jets. Libyan opposition forces on the ground also engaged the convoy.

During the assault, 20 vehicles broke from the convoy and headed south. NATO aircraft continued strikes on these vehicles as well. Gaddafi survived the initial strike on the convoy and ended up in a drainpipe with his bodyguards. NTC fighters located them and opened fire, capturing Gaddafi in the process.

This is where the line blurs between fact, allegation and hearsay.

Cell phone video footage, most of which was uploaded online, gives some interpretation to the events. In one video, well-armed NTC fighters surround a wounded but living Gaddafi as he is violently dragged to an ambulance.

At some point Gaddafi was fatally shot in the head, and separate video footage shows his shirtless body surrounded by a pool of blood. Another video shows a convoy of vehicles following the ambulance (which has Gaddafi’s body) and men praising a man who allegedly shot the authoritarian.

The United Nations will initiate an investigation to see whether Gaddafi was executed by the NTC fighters who captured him alive. The NTC says he was killed in crossfire between NTC fighters and Gaddafi loyalists immediately after his capture.

Besides the exact details of Gaddafi’s death, what is also unknown is the immediate future of Libya.

“The removal of the authoritarian leader doesn’t mean that democracy will take its place,” assistant political science professor Ryan Kennedy said. “It’s one of those things where you’re likely to have an extensive period of uncertainty. You have to figure out if these groups that worked together to remove Gaddafi can work together now that they don’t have that over-arching goal.”

NTC leaders urge the country to remain calm, follow the law, and wait for due process to bring in new leaders and a new constitution. However, this process could take months, if not longer.

“There’s going to have to be some kind of discussion as to what the new constitution is going to look like,” Kennedy said. “And these things can all be very contentious. We’ve seen this in Iraq.”

NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said on Sunday that Islamic Sharia law would be the main source of law for the new Libya and urged citizens to abstain from force in order to resolve conflicts.

The NTC executive committee, likewise, announced that an interim government would be formed within a month to run Libya’s daily affairs.

This addresses a question that still lingers: what will happen to the NTC now that their goal, the end of Gaddafi and the civil war, has been achieved?

At the very least, there is the potential for Libya to become an example of democracy post-Gaddafi. However, there is also the potential for someone to succeed where Gaddafi left off.

“Removing Gaddafi is an important step, but there’s a long road to go,” Kennedy said. “There has to be a new round of elections. There is quite a bit of work for democratization to take place for Libya itself.”

David Haydon is a political science senior and may be reached at [email protected].


  • I'm wondering how you take a culture based on tribalism and patriarchy and transform it into a working democracy based on individualism. Their model (the US) has succeeded for barely 250 years, (and some would argue that 250 years isn't long enough to label it successful,) while the Lybian model has existed for Millenia. They embrace American style Democracy with not a single iota of experience with it. When we formed, we basically modified the English system (including its Common Law system,) Tribalism doesn't hold individualism in high esteem; it holds the tribe in high esteem. Democracy is the opposite. All I see in their future is more struggle based on an identity crisis. There would have to be a fundamental paradymic shift is their cultural identiy, IMHO for Democracy to work. Somehow, I don't see that happening anytime soon. What they may end up with is Democracy Lite or a U.S. knock-off. Democracy is more than an intellectual concept;

      • I suppose that all depends on your definition of "success" in terms of governmental prowess. Admittedly we got off to a rather clunky start and are just beginning to realise how much we have succeeded in spite of ourselves. 🙂 But can we continue? There's the bigger question.

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