So, it’s starting to look as if the impossible has been achieved: Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya with an iron fist for just three days shy of 42 years, has been routed from power. You know it’s over when you see video of the hidden tunnels of his compound, and of rebels ransacking his personal items. The only thing left is to actually find him, execute his arrest warrant, and conduct his trial.

But what does this mean for the Middle East? The Arab Spring, which started last December in Tunisia, has literally swept through the Middle East, toppling one dictator after another. The first to go was Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia. Then Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for nearly thirty years, was toppled from power after eighteen days of revolt. In all, eighteen Middle Eastern countries have been affected by the unexpected turmoil in that area.

What has resulted is a complete shift of the status quo. Most of these leaders have ruled for decades, and now several of these countries are now virtually leaderless. Power vacuums historically go one of two ways: either new leadership takes root and drastic changes occur that lead said country in new and exciting directions; or pre-existing tensions rise to the surface, people take sides, and turmoil persists until someone comes to power. In the case of the latter, it is usually the most powerful who rise to power, and a cycle of autocratic rule begins anew.

In the case of Gaddafi, many predicted his downfall, but few knew how it would play out. The rebels were weak and disorganized, prompting an all-out massacre from Gaddafi’s forces. Eventually, the US joined forces with other NATO countries—against the advice of several senior American lawmakers, I might add—in order to provide air support and training to assist the rebels.

While this tactic took longer than many would have liked, the result is that the victory was largely due to the rebels’ persistence; this creates the hope in many peoples’ minds that this hard-won victory will be followed by decisive actions on the rebels part to form a strong, cohesive government that will listen to the voices of the people, rather than making decisions based upon the interests of a select few, as has been Libyan policy up until now.

And now, Gaddafi is on the run and his family has fled to Algeria. Whether this is a sign of good things to come for Libyans remains to be seen, but a bigger question is what this victory will mean to the people in other countries where the struggle for freedom and democracy remains ongoing. Will they see Libyans working together for a unified future and be inspired to step up their campaigns of resistance, or will they see Libya descend into chaos along sectarian lines, thus discouraging them from enacting similar change in their own country? Only time will tell.


[photo credit: Globovisión]