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October 20, 2011

Q&A: Stanford's Lina Khatib on killing of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi

By Sarina Beges

Says Stanford expert Lina Khatib: Qaddafi's death signals the end of an era for Libya. (Photo credit: Reuters: Ismail Zetouni)

The killing of Muammar Qaddafi marks an end to one of the most dramatic chapters of the Arab Spring. But what follows after the death of a dictator who has held power for 42 years? Lina Khatib, the head of the Arab Reform and Democracy program at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, discusses Qaddafi's death and its significance for Libya and its neighbors.

What's next for Libya?

 Libya faces a complicated journey ahead. Qaddafi never developed state institutions in Libya, so the National Transitional Council faces the challenge of building a state system almost from scratch. This makes democratic transition in Libya much more difficult than in Egypt and Tunisia. Another challenge is potential internal power struggles over leadership of the country, which may be fueled by existing tribal rivalries.

 

Is this the end of an era of Arab autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa?

 Qaddafi's death signals the end of an era for Libya, and a sobering reminder to Arab autocrats who are refusing to listen to their people of their potential fate. However, I wish Qaddafi were captured alive and given a fair trial. That would have sent a stronger message to other Arab autocrats – unfortunately, for some, Qaddafi's death has already transformed him into a celebrated martyr.

 

Is Qaddafi's death a larger victory for the Arab Spring?

 It is only a matter of time before leaders like Assad of Syria and Saleh of Yemen are forced to step down, whether violently or not. Qaddafi's death, however, will not necessarily make those leaders more likely to cede power. It is possible that, following a now-established pattern of thinking of themselves in exceptional terms, they might think that, unlike Qaddafi, they can "outsmart" their oppositions and the international community. I think we need to think about what this death means for the people in places like Syria and Yemen. It may take time, but Arab protesters in Yemen and Syria will prevail, and Qaddafi's death is an empowering factor to them. The death of Qaddafi is not going to be the biggest catalyst for autocrats to leave power; the steadfastness of the people on the street is the deciding factor.

Sarina Beges is the program manager for the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.

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Contact

Lina Khatib, Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law: lkhatib@stanford.edu

Adam Gorlick, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies: (650) 724-9842, agorlick@stanford.edu

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