REPORTING FROM BEIRUT — Libya’s new rulers declared their nation “liberated” on Sunday, opening the way for elections and a constitution that the revolutionary government says will put the country on a path to its first representative democracy.
The declaration in the eastern city of Benghazi — where mass protests in February ignited what morphed into a national rebellion — came three days after Libya’s long-time ruler, Moammar Kadafi, was slain in his home city of Surt as the city was overrun by revolutionary forces.
Officials say Kadafi was killed in battle or in a crossfire after he was captured. But the nature of his death, apparently from a bullet to the head, has raised suspicions that he may have been executed while a prisoner. His decaying body has remained on display in the coastal city of Misurata, which was largely destroyed during the war.
In declaring the nation of 6 million liberated, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, leader of the transitional government and a former justice minister during Kadafi’s rule, laid out an Islamist vision for the future, declaring that Sharia law would serve as a foundation for future governance. But it will be left to future lawmakers to determine the level of influence Islam will have in the new Libya.
Islamists are one of a number of groups seeking a stake in the new Libya, which is about to undergo a radical restructuring after Kadafi’s more than four decade domination. A major challenge will be to form some kind of consensus government amid regional and tribal differences. The nation’s new leaders are hopeful of disarming the many militias that ousted Kadafi and funneling their members into a new military and police corps.
While "Arab Spring" revolutions also triumphed in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, ousting entrenched autocratic rulers, both nations had functioning government structures, including militaries, that survived their respective revolutions. In Libya, however, Kadafi's regime left few traces of government behind, meaning Libya’s new rulers must create a brand new system. Much of the Kadafi-era elite — including relatives and cronies of the leader — have also been toppled.
It was not immediately clear when the first elections would be held, though some have called for national polling within eight months to chose an interim government.
— Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Celebrations at Saha Kish Square in Benghazi, Libya, where protests in February ignited the rebellion that ousted Moammar Kadafi from power. Credit: Francois Mori / Associated Press