After a grueling, eight-month bloody battle that resulted in the death of Muammar Qaddafi on Thursday, Libyans face a host of challenges as they begin to rebuild their country.
Qaddafi became the first leader of a nation belonging to the Arab Spring fraternity to die at the hands of his own people. There were no deals of immunity and no long-winded trials that may have exposed some ugly truths, much to the collective sigh of relief of Western nations that once supported Qaddafi.
Pundits have been scurrying since his death to list the challenges the new rulers of the National Transitional Council face, but arguably, their greatest priority will be securing law and order.
The very thing that secured Libyans their victory ¬– arms – could pose the greatest challenge for the NTC. Fighters in Misrata, Tripoli, Benghazi and now Sirte each claim responsibility for “freeing Libya,” and feel a sense of entitlement to the spoils of war – be that roles in the new government or continuing to play the role of law enforcement. Herein lies the danger, as the past few weeks have shown that revenge attacks have been common, and despite the NTC’s attempts to de-weaponize its fighters, those efforts have not had the results they hoped for. These fears have also been expressed by various human rights organizations.
However, for protestors in other Arab nations witnessing bloody uprisings, the Libyan victory – unique because its fighters were armed and it had the benefits of international military intervention ─ will provide a great deal of succor, namely the belief that victory is possible.
For the Syrian opposition, this is an opportunity to band together and begin a concerted effort to push for international intervention against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This is what the NTC did when months ago it began to canvass for international support, a campaign that resulted in the enforcement of no-fly zones in Libya, shipment of arms and recognition of the council’s legitimacy as the new leaders of Libya.
For Yemenis determined to end the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the challenges lie in maintaining peaceful protests in the face of gross brutality. Yemen is already a heavily weaponized and tribal society, and factional warfare has served Saleh well. Indeed, he has used factional rivalries, along with the al-Qaeda threat, to perpetuate his own rule. Yemenis seek to stay committed to peaceful resistance, as demonstrated by Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman, but that runs the risk of changing if and when Yemenis turn to the Libyan model to bring about change.
The year will undoubtedly be remembered for the Arab Spring and the fate its leaders met: Tunisia’s President Zine ElAbedine Ben Ali went into self-exile in Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak faces trial on charges of corruption, and Qaddafi has been killed. The victors remain the same: the people who called for, and hope to achieve, democracy. How the end plays out for other Arab nations remains to be seen, but it is safe (and tragic) to assume two things: remaining leaders won’t go quietly, and democracy is no longer a pipe dream but a reality waiting for its birth.