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Associated Press/Photo by David Sperry

After Qaddafi

A potentially bloody road ahead for Libya, and the question of Islamist power remains

Issue: "Beyond the body count," Nov. 5, 2011

Col. Muammar Qaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years with an iron fist, is dead. Bloodied pictures purportedly of the dictator circled online, but the cause of his death Oct. 20 remained murky: Some reports said he was killed when a NATO air strike hit his convoy, while other reports said he was captured badly wounded and died from the wounds, and still others said he had been shot in the head.

Qaddafi, 69, is the first leader to be killed in the Arab Spring movement. Shouts of "Allahu Akhbar!" filled the streets of Tripoli after the news of his death. "A new Libya is born today," Mahmoud Shammam told The New York Times. Shamman is the chief spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC), the interim government that took power after Qaddafi's government fell. "This is the day of real liberation. We were serious about giving him a fair trial. It seems God has some other wish."

Libyan rebel forces, backed up by NATO air support, also overran the final Qaddafi loyalist holdouts in the dictator's hometown of Sirte after two months of battle. Qaddafi fled Tripoli as it fell to rebels Aug. 21 and has been on the run since, though some doubted he remained in the country. Loyalist forces remain scattered around the country, and some believe Qaddafi stored caches of weapons in the southern desert, leaving the possibility of an ongoing insurgency.

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The NTC, the interim government, has pledged to support a "pluralistic democracy," but no one really knows the disposition of the rebels in power. Libyans have voted once in their country's history, in 1952, a vote reeking of manipulation that resulted in the dissolution of all political parties. Alex Warren, director of the Middle East and North Africa research firm Frontier, noted in Foreign Policy that "parties with Islam as their guiding tenet should garner a great deal of support," and added that regional factionalism could be an issue in coming months. Compared to the relatively swift transition to democracy in Tunisia, a "bloodier road" lies ahead for Libya, he said, "where the electorate will wield guns as well as votes."

Abdel Jalil, the chairman of the NTC, said earlier this year that no NTC members would be eligible for elections, which the interim government hopes to hold next year. Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a rebel leader and Islamist who oversees security in Tripoli, has strong support, and he announced Qaddafi's death on Libyan television. Belhaj formerly commanded the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which the United States designated as a terrorist group aligned with al-Qaeda, and the CIA took him into custody for a time in 2004.

But Belhaj also opposed Qaddafi, so he became an unlikely ally for the United States. In recent months Belhaj has denied that he has any Islamist designs for Libya.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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