Of course his eventual end did not play out as smoothly as it should have; in an ideal world the dictator (ironically caught hiding in a sewer pipe after months of describing the democratic opposition as “rats”), would have been taken alive and brought before the International Criminal Court to face his indictment. Observing international law and giving him the kind of fair trial he denied to so many thousands during his rule, would have been a truly optimistic start for the new Libya. Yet in reality things were always going to be different.
No one will ever be sure how exactly Gaddafi’s life was ended; for sure he was alive when he first fell into the hands of the new government’s forces, but whether he was killed in an on-going exchange of fire with his loyalists, or was summarily executed by his captors, is likely to remain in dispute.
The latter, whilst obviously unacceptable, would be somewhat understandable. Given the horrors that he perpetrated, from the notorious Abu Salim Massacre in 1996 to the live burials of dissidents as his regime began to crumble this year, it was almost too much to expect that at least a handful of revolutionary fighters would not seek instantaneous revenge. This is not to belittle the issue of summary-justice and retaliation, indeed addressing the treatment of detained pro-Gaddafi forces and mercenaries, must be a matter of priority for the National Transitional Council (NTC), yet right now the circumstances of Gaddafi’s demise are far less significant that the fact that he is no more.
For, with the threat of a violent counter-insurgency lifted and the democratic forces in control of almost the entire country, the re-building of Libya can begin. On Saturday, the NTC will declare national liberation – put on hold from August’s victory in Tripoli until the last bastions of Gaddafi’s loyalists were defeated. And despite the venal rants of groups such as the UK’s Stop the War Coalition (which incidentally allowed green-flag-waving Gaddafi supporters to join their demonstrations against humanitarian intervention) it will be rebuilt not for Europe or for the USA but for Libyans.
For, it was Libyans who first rose up in February, formed their own leadership a month later and most importantly of all, gave their lives in the battle to free their country. NATO support prevented retributive massacres by Gaddafi and ultimately facilitated the rebels’ victory- something which the nations involved can be truly proud of, but this has always been a Libyan revolution.
That is not to say things will be easy, nor that the road towards promised elections next year will be smooth –no one expects that. But tonight, one of the worlds longest standing dictators is gone forever, and more than six million more people have the chance to choose their own future.