October 20, 2011

Professors Respond to Qaddafi’s Death

Print More

Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi died Thursday, ending a 42-year regime. Qaddafi was caught fleeing from his hometown of Sirte, Libya, when rebel forces pulled him out of a sewage pipe, according to The New York Times.

Qaddafi was taken into custody alive and died en route to Misrata, The Times reported. He subsequently died while in rebel custody, although questions remain about the cause of his death.

Cornell professors discussed the implications of Qaddafi’s death for both the transitioning nation and surrounding region.

“If they had captured him to be tried in international court, that would have been the best result for Libya. It strengthens the international norms against brutal dictatorships and limits what autocrats can do to their own people,” Prof. Mildred Sanders, government, said.

However, Sanders noted the possibility that Qaddafi’s inglorious fall could serve as a warning to dictators around the world.

Prof. David Patel, government, also analyzed the effect Qaddafi’s death will have on similar leaders.

“I really want to know what Bashar Al-Assad of Syria is thinking tonight. The people surrounding Qaddafi are dead because they went down with the sinking ship. They could have turned their guns and overthrown him, and Al-Assad is thinking the same thing tonight,” Patel said.

Libya’s dramatic transformation of power is part of a changing tide in Middle Eastern politics.

“[Qaddafi] is now the third Arab leader to fall. We have an image of the Middle Eastern region as being very unstable, but when it comes to regimes, it’s been incredibly stable until recently,” Patel said. “This is the first time a popular uprising has overthrown a leader, granted with tremendous NATO backing.”

Patel also discussed the historical context of the regime change, saying that it is likely about 80 percent of the Libyan population has never known a leader other than Qaddafi. “It’s not like an American president stepping down. This is pretty stunning.”

Questions remain concerning the direction Libya will take now that Qaddafi’s regime has ended.

“When it comes to building a new government and allocating resources, there’s going to be a lot of different factions that want a share of the pie,” Patel said. “They’ll all think they deserve it because they stood and fought against Qaddafi, and everyone believes they fought against Qaddafi, and everyone believes they fought harder than someone else.”

Sanders drew attention to Libya’s lack of governmental structure as an obstacle moving forward.

“The worst crime Qaddafi committed against his people was making sure no effective national government institutions arose. He deliberately didn’t build a nation. He kept everyone fragmented, thinking it was the best way for him to hold on to his power. How they’re going to grope toward a modern nation state is just such a long way to go,” Sanders said.

Patel echoed Sanders’ sentiments, saying that Qaddafi periodically changed what powers were allocated to different levels of government.

“If you were to put all the Libyan want-to-be leaders around a table and start negotiating a constitution, I don’t think they’d have any shared understanding of what a new Libyan state is supposed look like,” he said.

“That’s exciting, because they don’t have any institutional legacy or burden of the past,” he said.

According to Patel, the potential for Libya to start over does not end at a new government. He said the culture surrounding Qaddafi was so pervasive that the nation now lacks any sense of national identity.

Despite the nation’s difficulties as it enters this new phase, Sanders expressed hope that democracy will be possible in Libya.

“Democracy takes a long time,” Sanders said, “But it’s a good thing if people build it themselves instead of having it imposed.”

Original Author: Christa Nianiatus