In 2009 Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi stormed out of the Arab summit in Qatar after denouncing the Saudi King Abdullah as a liar and declaring himself “the king of kings.” Today, that king of kings is dead.
In the wee hours of Thursday, Libyan rebels launched one more offensive in Gaddafi’s birthplace of Sirte. Some 90 minutes later reports of his capture and death surfaced, officially ending his 42 year rule, the longest by any Arab leader. Libyan National Transitional Council official Abdel Mlegta said “there was a lot of firing against his group and he died.” He was wounded in both legs and shot in the head, says Mlegta.
Evidence from a mobile photo shows the bloody body of the former leader and a shaky video that shows his cadaver on the street.
Wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, Gaddafi leaves behind a legacy of tyrannical rule and a bitter civil and ethnic strife that will likely plague Libya’s political transition in the months and years to come.
Inspired by Egypt’s Gamal Nasser and Arab nationalism, Gaddafi led a bloodless coup in 1969 which overthrew the pro-Western King Idris.
A decade later, he began a policy of assassinating Libyan opponents abroad, killing 25 between 1980-1987.
In December of 1988, Libyan agents were blamed for planting a bomb on board a Pan Am flight from Heathrow to New York which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. The accused Libyan bomber, Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, was handed over by Gaddafi in 1999 for trial in the Netherlands.
As news of Gaddafi’s death and the fall of Sirte emerged, rebels celebrated by firing endless rounds into the sky, flashing V-for victory signs and chanting “God is great.” But, as the former leader is now gone, Libya’s civilian transition looks feeble. Regional and ethnic divisions among the ranks of the rebels are already hinting at the first signs of a civil strife.
One only needs to look in history when measuring the unintended consequences of military interventions like that used by NATO in Libya. In Afghanistan, years of civil strife created an environment that fostered the growth of Taliban. More recently, sectarian strife in Iraq continues to rip through the country. Clan divisions in Libya will create a power struggle that may cause more destruction to the Libyan economy and people.
Moreover, the death of Gaddafi does not necessarily mean that his supporters have vanished. Gaddafi is said to have hidden weapons in the vast Libyan Desert which could be the next stronghold for the anti-rebel movement.
For now, at least, Libya can celebrate the end of Gaddafi’s brutal reign and bizarre rules.