Qaddafi’s death yesterday marked a turning point in the Arab Spring. The number of authoritarian regimes in the Arab world continues to dwindle and the number of rulers that have been subject to some type of reckoning (whether legal or justified) has increased. His capture (and the apparently gruesome videos) can only serve as a warning to those who remain. As a result, those leaders could in turn move more quickly towards reform or even more brutal crackdowns on demonstrators. And of course, it will more than likely embolden those that seek to overthrow despots in their own countries, throughout the Arab and African worlds. Opposition leaders in both Syria and Yemen reportedly “drew inspiration from reports about Qaddafi.”
International intervention, in particular United States military intervention, will continue to be an issue as well. Qaddafi’s fall and the defeat of his government were marked by both more violence and greater international intervention than any other countries that have experienced regime-change during the Arab Spring. Notably, today Judge Reggie Walton dismissed a suit by a bi-partisan group of United States Congressmen, which challenged the United States military intervention in Libya, showing just how contentious U.S. military intervention could continue to be, even up until the election. This particular combination has made a number of countries facing similar democratic opposition all the more volatile, as other leaders wonder if the United States or the European Union will choose to intervene in their countries. “Kampala ‘mute’ as Qaddafi falls” is how one editorial in Al-Jazeera described the scene in Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni is also facing intense democratic opposition. This editorial also pointed out that Qaddafi’s fall has led to a vacuum in terms of African leadership. This vacuum will (hopefully) be filled by a new generation of democratically elected officials.
Qaddafi’s capture and subsequent death closes a chapter, but also leaves a number of unanswered questions and unresolved issues. First and foremost, what role did the United States play in his capture and death? For those in the progressive community, this is or should be an important question. In particular, due to the implications for our country’s commitment to the rule of law and participation in international tribunals. And if the United States military did play a role, will it also play a role in the capture of his son Saif Al-Islam and his spy chief Abdullah Senussi, who are both under warrants from the International Criminal Court? Along with the search for and capture of these indicted, suspected war criminals, there is also the question of future war crimes. The persecution of migrants from sub-saharan Africa and black Libyan citizens, who have been attacked and displaced, could evolve into a full-fledged human rights crisis if the National Transitional Council is not able to stem the tide of internal displacement. The United States mandate should also include ensuring that racism and xenophobia do not lead to the persecution of these vulnerable populations. Further, what role does the United States plan to play in the formation of the new Libyan government from the National Transitional Council, as it is clear that the U.S. government has decided to support them for the indefinite future?
Although many found Qaddafi’s death a reason to rejoice, many serious issues remain, and progressive voices will need to continue to play a role in shaping ongoing policy resolutions for these issues.