In the wake of Gadhafi

In the wake of Gadhafi

October 21st, 2011 in Opinion Times

The death of Moammar Gadhafi, dictator of Libya for more than 40 years, spawned celebrations around the world. Ecstatic Libyans took to the streets to mark his demise. Others -- parents and friends of those killed in the Gadhafi-managed 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland or of those who simply disappeared in Libya, for example -- joined them. World leaders were more circumspect, though there was an obvious if quiet air of satisfaction in many capitals. Amidst the joy, however, there was understandable concern about Libya's future.

For the moment, feelings of relief are paramount. And no wonder. Gadhafi was ruthless. He ruled with an iron hand, eliminating anyone that threatened his hold on power. The toll was enormous. His reign was so horrific that President Ronald Reagan once called him "the mad dog of the Middle East," and many of his erstwhile Arab allies kept him at arm's length.

Political and police control of Libya were only part of the Gadhafi resume. He looted the state, too, preferring to line his family's pockets rather than provide infrastructure and amenities to his people. His violent rule and his rapaciousness spurred the revolutionary movement that toppled his government and that claimed his life. Gadhafi, it should be noted, is the only leader killed in the series of uprisings popularly called "the Arab spring."

What follows Gadhafi in Libya is uncertain. That worries world leaders. The success of the revolutionary movement does not guarantee an orderly transition to representative government. The uprising against Gadhafi began, like other of the year's democratic movements in Arab countries, as a demand for fairer, more equitable government. Unlike other democratic initiatives, it turned into a near civil war that has crippled the ability of the interim government or anyone else to provide stability.

The revolutionary movement's stated and admirable goal is to bring normalcy to Libya. Even in the best of times, that would be difficult. Long-standing geographical, tribal and religious divisions in the country have been papered over by a common desire to oust Gadhafi. They are sure to reappear as disparate groups work together to build the political and physical infrastructure required for true nationhood.

That process will not be orderly or quick. It will take time for the exuberance surrounding the successful overthrow of Gadhafi to settle down. It will take longer for people energized by war to return to peaceful pursuits, especially since many basic commodities are in short supply, and many services -- power, water, communications -- uncertain.

Libyans will need assistance to rebuild their nation. Great Britain, France, the United States and other nations that played positive roles in the successful revolution against Gadhafi still have roles to fulfill. They can't and shouldn't dictate policy, but the orderly transition of Libya from autocratic rule to representative government can't proceed without their assistance.