Gadhafi’s Death is Only A Passing Triumph for the New Libya

by LaiYee Leong, Ph.D.
Associate Research Fellow
John G. Tower Center for Political Studies, SMU

Gadhafi’s death is undoubtedly good news to most Libyans and to the international community. Under his brutal 42-year dictatorship, Libya saw a complete collapse of governmental institutions. Gadhafi ruled with terrifying capriciousness, wreaked havoc in the daily lives of the people, and all but decimated the economy. Externally, Gadhafi pursued policies that added to instability in the Middle East and North Africa. He actively supported terrorist groups against the US and Israel, and aggressively exerted Libyan influence over Arab neighbors. Only prolonged international isolation and severe economic problems forced Gadhafi in the last decade to seek rehabilitation in the eyes of Western leaders.

The National Transitional Council has now inherited a failed state. In many ways, the challenges that come next will be much harder than the act of overthrowing Gadhafi’s regime. Gadhafi’s corrupt rule has hollowed out political institutions, leaving no functional framework of representation or governance upon which to build a new republic. Gadhafi built his power upon an edifice of patronage to the clans related to his tribe. In response, groups that opposed the regime now run along the fractured lines of tribal and regional loyalties. These are not civil society organizations that can easily draw together the diverse elements in Libya. The uprising that overthrew Gadhafi itself was less motivated by democratic ideals as such than by hatred of the dictator and his allies. Even the military in Libya is largely made up of one tribe. Unlike the protestors in Egypt or Tunisia, Gadhafi’s opponents quickly launched a civil war. This all-or-nothing attitude reveals the profound divisions in society and the weakness of the state.