Gaddafi’s death a cautionary tale

2011-10-21 08:24

Cairo – Images of Muammar Gaddafi’s bloodied body flashing on TV screens across the world may send shivers down the spines of Syria’s Bashar Assad and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, two leaders clinging to power in the face of long-running Arab Spring uprisings.

For the millions of Arabs yearning for freedom, democracy and new leadership, the death of one of the region’s most brutal dictators will likely inspire and invigorate the movement for change.

Gaddafi’s death sent ripples across the Arab world and set the internet’s social networks abuzz with comments, mostly celebrating the demise of a leader whose bizarre and eccentric behaviour over the years defined the woes of an Arab world mostly ruled by autocratic or despotic leaders.

“There is an emotional connection between the revolutionaries in the region. Hope is contagious,” said Egyptian activist Mona Seif. “Our revolution is one. The fall of another tyrant is a victory for all of us,” she said in a post on her Twitter account.

Gaddafi was shot dead in the final battle for his hometown of Sirte on Libya’s Mediterranean coast. He had been in hiding for the two months since the capital of Tripoli fell to rebels who rose up against his 42-year rule in February.

The 69-year-old Gaddafi – the first leader to be killed in the Arab Spring wave of popular uprisings – had vowed to fight to the end. In his world of nationalism and desert valour, it was a fate better than the perceived humiliation of exile or incarceration endured by Tunisia’s Zine
El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

But while the death of Gaddafi and the triumph of the uprising in his North African nation has instantly given heart to pro-reform activists dreaming of change, the Arab world will watch closely what happens next in Libya – and to whether the region’s “Assads” and “Salehs” will see in his fate an incentive to cling to power and crack down even harder on any sign of unrest.

“Winning the war in Libya is the easy part. Building democracy will be the tough part,” said Ronald Bruce of St John’s College in Santa Fe, Nex Mexico. “It is going to be chaotic, but the Libyans will be up to the task.”

Yesterday, Libyans set aside their worries and differences to celebrate, firing in the air and singing in the streets. Similarly, most Egyptians were ecstatic when Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February after 29 years in office.

But optimism and jubilation soon gave way to differences between the youth groups behind the 18-day uprising that forced the Egyptian leader out and the military council that took over the reins of power.

Gaddafi’s death instantly resonated across Arab countries touched by the Arab Spring. “This will signal the death of the idea that Arab leaders are invincible,” said activist and blogger Hossam Hamalawi.

“Mubarak is in a cage, Ben Ali ran away, and now Gaddafi killed. All this will bring down the red line that we can’t get these guys.”

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